Guilty plea in death of man intentionally run over by van driver

Tuesday,

Tristen Baier admitted in court that he intended to hit a man on Portland Avenue with his van as part of his guilty plea to second-degree unintentional murder, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Tuesday.

The plea came during the second trial, after a jury last year acquitted the 22-year-old of first-degree murder but could not reach a verdict on other charges in the 2016 death of 37-year-old Roberto Bernabe Cortez. Sentencing was set for Sept. 24 and Baier is expected to receive 128 months in prison.

According to his guilty plea and the original criminal complaint, on the night of Oct. 22, 2016, Baier was angry at an ex-girlfriend and went to a house in the 2900 block of Portland Avenue where she lived. Baier was behind the house and used a baseball bat to smash the windows of a car that was there, which he believed to be his girlfriend’s. He admitted he later learned it was not her car.

One of the residents in the home stepped outside to investigate the noise and chased after Baier, who jumped a fence and ran around the block to get to his car. During that chase, the man from the house pulled out a knife, but Baier raised his bat up to his side, got in his van and drove off, he said during his guilty plea.

Baier admitted in court that he still was mad at his girlfriend and was upset that someone had pulled a knife on him, so after driving a block or two, he swung around and eventually was driving on Portland Avenue. He saw a group of men gathered on Portland near his ex-girlfriend’s house. While most of them scattered from the road when they saw the van coming, Cortez did not move fast and Baier said he decided to drive at him.

Senior Hennepin County Dan Allard asked what his intention was when he drove at Cortez.

“To cause bodily harm,” Baier said, also acknowledging that the van was now a dangerous weapon.

Baier’s attorney noted that they had discussed a self-defense argument, but decided against it. Hennepin County District Court Judge Fred Karasov asked Baier if he understood that “once you got in the van and left, you lost any right to claim self-defense when you came back?” Baier said yes.

The man who chased Baier had adamantly denied having a knife and would have testified to that if the trial had continued.

Baier said he spent about two months in a mental health facility in the spring of 2015 because of a suicide attempt and that he currently takes medication for his bi-polar condition.