Elisa Baker sentenced to maximum of 18 years


None - The woman accused of killing her step-daughter and dismembering the child's body pleaded guilty to second degree murder in court Thursday morning.

Elisa Baker was sentenced to a maximum of 18 years in prison. Before the plea deal was reached, she would have faced as many as 30 years behind bars. Prosecutors are calling five witnesses before the judge issues the sentence.

Before issuing the sentence, the judge said the case would "haunt the community until [he's] in a rocking chair."

Before the sentence was read, Adam Baker and Zahra's biological mother, Emily Dietrich, were given the opportunity to address the court.

Dietrich said she lives with "constant pain, guilt and regret," and told Elisa Baker she had "stolen away Zahra's chance to meet the 10-year-old's two other siblings."

"I feel there will be no real justice for Zahra," she said.

She concluded the statement with something she had written in late October, when Zahra was still considered missing.

Adam Baker was more direct, telling Elisa Baker he had trusted her to care for Zahra and she had instead "destroyed [his] life and [his] family's life. "Zahra looked up to you, wanted to be like you, and you filled her life with lies," he said. "There are no words to describe the hate I have for you."

He finished his statement pleading with her to speak at the hearing and reveal where she had discarded the still-missing pieces of Zahra's body.

Elisa Baker declined to comment, but her attorney read a statement of apology, reiterating that Elisa Baker was the person who led police to Zahra's body.

During testimony earlier in the day, one Hickory police officer involved in the search said they never recovered Zahra's head, hands, and parts of her arms and legs. The officer said search teams would not have been able to find Zahra's body without information and assistance from Elisa Baker.

Another investigator testified that Elisa Baker told officials that she found Zahra not breathing and unresponsive on Sept. 24. She told them she tried CPR and then called Adam Baker who arrived about an hour later and told her "he would take care of it." Elisa Baker also told investigators Adam Baker told her she had to help in hiding Zahra's body, the witness said. The investigator said research into that story showed the story was not true.

During testimony, investigators revealed cell phone tracking information they had on Elisa Baker that showed she was not in the locations she claimed in her statements to police. Investigators also revealed they found a saw, possibly used in the dismemberment of Zahra.

When describing the instances of abuse cataloged by investigators, heard from Elisa's friends, her own biological daughter, and the principal and teacher of Zahra's school. A teacher told investigators the girl was so distraught at urinating on herself that staff members cleaned her clothes during the day so she could go home in the same thing she wore to school.

A State Bureau of Investigations agent who operates in Catawba County testified that there were signs that Zahra Baker did not die of natural causes, as Elisa Baker claimed. He said investigators collected blood evidence from a pair of girl's pants, the walls of Zahra's bedroom, and the console of a vehicle Elisa Baker drove. He also testified that the skeletal remains showed obvious signs of being cut apart by some type of tool.

Zahra Baker's father, Adam, and her biological mother were both in the courtroom as Elisa pleaded guilty. Adam Baker told Channel 9 reporter Dave Faherty Wednesday that he wanted to be there to make sure there was justice for Zahra.

It's possible Elisa Baker will have to pay restitution consisting of the cost of transporting Zahra's remains to Australia for proper burial. Zahra's biological mother and father are expected to address the court before the judge issues the sentence.

From the beginning of the investigation into the disappearance of the 10-year-old Hickory girl, Adam Baker has denied knowing anything about what happened to his daughter.

Elisa Baker was charged with second degree murder in February.

Elisa and Adam Baker reported her missing on Oct. 9, telling police they last saw the girl sleeping in her bed at about 2:30 a.m. An Amber Alert was issued and a massive search for Zahra ensued.

On Oct. 12, Adkins announced the cancellation of the Amber Alert and the decision to investigate Zahra’s disappearance as a homicide.

An exhaustive search for evidence proceeded, spanning three counties and several locations. Investigators searched a wood pile in Burke County, two ponds, the Bakers’ Hickory home, a Caldwell County landfill, a rural area off Christie Road and a creek and its surrounding banks in the Dudley Shoals area.

On Oct. 26, police found Zahra’s prosthetic leg off Christie Road. On Nov. 10, her remains were found in the Dudley Shoals area.

Elisa Baker has been jailed throughout the investigation on an obstruction of justice charge. Police said she admitted to writing a fake ransom note.