Crime

Bellingham man gets up to life in prison for sexual abuse of 5 young girls

A Bellingham man must spend a minimum of 15 years in prison for sexually abusing five girls, a Whatcom County judge ruled Wednesday, April 15.

Charles Fisher Baggett Jr., 59, former owner of Baggett & Sons Marine Restoration, coaxed the first girl to perform oral sex during a sleepover at his apartment on Whatcom Street. She was younger than 6.

Over the next five years Baggett did the same with four other girls, and continued to sexually abuse the first girl. He asked one of them, the oldest, to be his “part-time lover,” according to court records. At the time, as he later told a Department of Corrections evaluator, he believed the sexual contact was “fine since they wanted to do it” — although the victims later recalled feelings of disgust, and fear of what would happen if anyone found out. He convinced the oldest girl that she’d lose her parents and her house if she told anyone.

Another victim, a grade school student, told a classmate in February 2014 about what Baggett had done with her. That friend told her mother, who told a school counselor, according to charging papers. All of the girls were interviewed and, within two weeks, Baggett had been charged with five counts of child rape. Each girl was younger than 12 when the abuse started.

Baggett pleaded guilty earlier this year to slightly reduced charges: three counts of child rape in the first degree, though all five girls are named, by their initials, as victims. The deal was made, in large part, so that the children would not be traumatized again by taking the witness stand, said Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Eric Richey.

Baggett grew up in Texas. He told his DOC evaluator, Eric Peterson, that twice in his youth he’d been forced to engage in sex acts with boys, once at knife-point. Other than a vehicle theft in the early ’80s, he had no criminal record. On April 15, 1996, he moved to northwest Washington — “no home, no job, no car, hundred bucks,” he said — and found work as a software programmer. He coached youth football and basketball in Mount Vernon while his children grew up.

He started molesting the girls in 2009.

“I was not at my normal emotional or mental levels at the time,” Baggett wrote in a statement in his case file. “Things look quite different now after being on an anti-psychotic drug for a year.”

Before jail, Baggett had never been in treatment or taken medication for a mental illness, though he suspected he might have one.

Some family members of the victims asked the judge to give Baggett more prison time. Some asked for less. One girl’s mother wrote in a letter to the court: “I turned him in to get help not to get locked away forever,” she wrote. “He’s not a monster and needs help.”

In court Baggett, a 6-foot-3 white man with a long, white billy-goat beard, glasses and a lingering Texas drawl, wore a gray sweatshirt under his green jail uniform Wednesday morning. He heaved a deep breath as he turned around to address the parents of the victims.

“Some might view this as an end,” he said. “I view it as an end to — as an adequate end — to a deception, to a betrayal, to a family. It also is a start. It is an opportunity for me to go forward and become a better person, to put whatever caused this, this fatal flaw of mine to rest forever. I’ve prayed the last 13 months that I’d get to see those — ” he paused to fight tears “ — that I’d get to see the girls. I didn’t want to hurt them. I love each and every one of them, your daughter included, every day,” he said, facing the father of the oldest girl.

He continued: “When nobody else was around, everybody seemed too busy, she was there, every day. She brought life, light, laughter. She brought all these things into my home, my life. I swore I’d do the best I could to try to help her. I failed her. I failed you,” he said, again turning to the girl’s father. “That part of me that did that betrayed you as well, and for that I am so sorry.”

Judge Deborra Garrett approved the plea deal ordering Baggett to serve a minimum of 15 years in prison, the midpoint of the standard range under state law. He could serve up to life if he does not do well in his sex offender treatment.

Before he was led back to his cell, Baggett hugged his public defender, Angela Anderson, and a jail guard let him quickly hug his family.

“Take care of that girl for me,” Baggett said in a loud, sad voice.

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