WEST PALM BEACH — After five years and six arrests, a judge has sent a third person to prison for the 2017 murder of 25-year-old MMA fighter Aaron Rajman.
Austin Baker received a sentence of 25 years after he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and two counts of home invasion robbery Friday morning.
His plea comes 10 days after jurors found Roberto Ortiz, one of six people charged in Rajman’s death, guilty of first-degree murder. Ortiz likely will become the fourth person in prison when he is sentenced, scheduled for Oct. 21.
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Public defender takes issue with investigators’ tactics
Two other defendants — Alton Anders, 33, and Cameron Burgess-Clark, 28 — both are awaiting trial on one count of first-degree murder and two counts of home invasion robbery. Summer Church and Jace Swinton pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2019 in exchange for 10 years in prison and 10 more of probation.
Prosecutors said the group shot and killed Rajman at his family’s home west of Boca Raton during a home invasion on July 3, 2017. Authorities arrested Swinton, Church and Ortiz in connection with his murder months later.
A witness told investigators that Ortiz said he committed the murder with his brother, a nickname Ortiz often used to refer to Baker. Deputies arrested Baker after finding a gun and documents with his name on it under a mattress at Ortiz’s home.
Palm Beach County Public Defender Carey Haughwout, who represented Baker, argued in motions to the judge that the prosecutors’ case against him was built on unreliable witness testimony.
“There are no eyewitness identifications, DNA or fingerprint evidence,” she wrote. “He believes he will be set free when he has an opportunity to properly prepare and present his case to a jury.”
Swinton initially told detectives that he didn’t know any of the people who accompanied him to Rajman’s house except for Ortiz, but reversed course in 2019, identifying Baker’s mugshot out of a lineup.
“He already knew who law enforcement was wanting him to identify,” Haughwout wrote.
He’d seen that very mugshot once before in a batch of court records provided by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office and knew that investigators were eyeing him as possible suspect, she said.
Swinton, then 20, faced life in prison for his own role in Rajman’s murder, but his testimony that day helped build the case against Baker and soften the charges against him, according to Haughwout’s filing.
Judge found other defendant’s testimony persuasive
Circuit Judge Howard Coates ruled that though the photo lineup was tainted and his testimony inconsistent, Swinton had testified with enough certainty to convince the court that Baker hadn’t been misidentified.
Circuit Judge Daliah Weiss, standing in for Coates on Friday, announced Baker’s sentence, crediting him for the nearly three years he spent in jail.
Rajman was a 145-pound featherweight who trained at a gym in Coconut Creek. He made his MMA debut in April 2014 and had a 2-2 record as a professional. He grew up in the Boca Raton area, having moved to Florida from New York when he was a child.
Hannah Phillips is a journalist covering public safety and criminal justice at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.