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Adam Baker's attorney asks for venue change

November 8, 2011

Adam Baker waits to be called by
the judge on Tuesday in court.

Before Elisa Baker pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of 10-year-old Zahra Baker in September in Catawba County, she wanted her trial moved elsewhere.

Her judge — citing “pervasive” and “prejudicial” media coverage in the area — approved the request, and arrangements were made for several trial dates and locations that never happened.

Now, Zahra’s father wants his case moved for the same reasons.

Adam Baker faces Catawba County charges of identity theft and obtaining property by false pretenses. Both counts are felonies, but are unrelated to Zahra Baker’s murder.

Adam’s attorney, Mark Killian, filed a motion for change of venue for the trial of his client's Catawba County charges on Nov. 3. After Killian spoke with District 25 Attorney James C. Gaither Jr. on Monday, an administrative hearing on that venue change request was set for Jan. 4.

In his motion, Killian argues that extensive media coverage of the Zahra Baker case would make it difficult to find an unbiased jury in Catawba County.

“While (Adam’s) current charges are unrelated to the death of his daughter, and further despite the lack of any credible evidence that (he) was involved in the disappearance and murder of his daughter, there exists in this county a widespread belief that (he) was criminally involved in his daughter’s death,” according to the motion.

Though Elisa initially told prosecutors that Adam helped dismember and hide Zahra’s body last year, police found inconsistencies with her story and used interviews with Adam; Elisa’s daughter, Amber Fairchild; and cell phone records to determine that Elisa was lying.

At Elisa’s sentencing hearing on Sept. 15, investigators said no evidence connected Adam to the murder.

Adam and Killian maintain that there is a “widespread belief” that he was involved in his daughter’s death.

Some of that suspicion stems from the fact that Zahra died on Sept. 24 and Baker did not report his daughter missing until Oct. 9 — meaning nearly two weeks passed without him knowing where she was.

That suspicion, combined with what Killian calls pervasive and irrelevant media coverage, makes it hard for Adam to receive a fair trial in Catawba County, according to the motion.

“The extensive media coverage of matters that are not relevant to or admissible at trial have so polluted the pool within which the jurors would be selected so as to make it very likely that such potential jurors would base their decision in this matter on this information and feelings rather than the evidence presented at trial,” according to the motion.

On Tuesday, Killian said he wants the trial moved outside the Hickory Metro and Charlotte media markets. He said the change of venue motion will likely be heard at Adam’s hearing on Jan. 4.

As Adam left the courtroom on Tuesday, he did not comment to reporters about the change of venue motion.

In Caldwell County, Adam is also charged with two counts of communicating threats, assault with a deadly weapon and failure to return rental property.

Last week, District Court Judge Burford Cherry agreed to continue court proceedings related to Baker’s Caldwell County charges. A Caldwell County grand jury is expected to hear indictments against Baker on Nov. 14.

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