UPDATE 7.49am: A GRAND jury in North Carolina has indicted Elisa Annette Baker for the second degree murder of her stepdaughter, Zahra Baker, the cancer-stricken Australian child who came to live in the United States with her father, Adam Baker, 33.
The indictment states that Zahra, aged 10, was murdered on September 24, 2010, more than two weeks before her father placed an emergency call to authorities on October 9, saying Zahra was missing.
District Attorney James “Jay” Gaither told a media conference in the town of Hickory a short time ago that “at this time there is no credible evidence that anyone other that Elisa Baker” was involved in the murder.
The indictment, which was brought down in the Superior Court of Catawba County, also charged Mrs Baker on aggravating factors, saying she “had a history of physical, verbal and psychological abuse” towards Zahra, whose cancer treatment in Australia had left her deaf and walking with a prosthetic leg.
“The defendant desecrated the victim’s body to hinder detection, investigation and prosecution of the offence.”
Mrs Baker led authorities to parts of Zahra’s remains after she was found to have written a fake ransom note. Until today, she was also being held in Catawba prison on charges relating to obstruction, and bigamy charges.
Mrs Baker had several overlapping marriages, and was not divorced when she married Adam Baker in Australia in July 2008. She has a long history of petty crime and issuing threats to people.
The grand jury was held in closed court and no further details on the cruelty Mrs Baker inflicted on Zahra are as yet forthcoming. The indictment said Mrs Baker took advantage of the trust she had in her domestic relationship to commit the offence.
The second-degree murder charges suggest Mrs Baker, 44, appears to have avoided the death penalty which applies in North Carolina. It is understood her legal team struck a deal that would not see her face the death penalty in exchange for revealing where some of Zahra’s body parts, and her prosthetic leg, had been dumped.
Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins said his “Team Zahra” would continue to follow leads up until the first day of Mrs Baker’s trial, a date for which is yet to be set.