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Additional warrants could be unsealed

December 13, 2010

A Superior Court hearing scheduled Monday to discuss search warrants in the Zahra Baker investigation was never held.

That doesn't mean, however, that additional details about the investigation into the disappearance and death of the 10-year-old girl won't surface in the coming weeks.

Attorney C. Amanda Martin with Media General Operations filed a civil motion Monday with the Catawba County Clerk of Court's Office to unseal warrants filed during the investigation from Oct. 11 through Nov. 30.

The warrants include information about the medical records of Elisa Baker, Zahra's stepmother; phone records; as well as Department of Social Service reports from Caldwell and Cleveland counties.

Thirty-five warrants and/or court orders were filed during Zahra's investigation. Of those 35, 22 remain sealed, according to Martin's motion.

Martin claims in her motion that warrants should be unsealed because they "do not include findings of facts or conclusions of law sufficiently specific as to permit the public and/or the appellate courts to understand" why the sealing occurred.

The motion cites additional reasons for unsealing the warrants, including Martin's belief that the sealing orders are not narrowly tailored in scope or duration and that the warrants were sealed before the search was executed.

Media outlets gathered in Catawba County Superior Court on Monday morning waiting for a hearing regarding the warrants. The hearing was on file at the Clerk of Court's Office and set for 10 a.m. The hearing never occurred, however. Elisa Baker's attorney, Scott Reilly, told reporters he didn't know of any hearings scheduled for Monday in Elisa Baker's case.

District Attorney Jay Gaither filed a motion Dec. 8 to set a January hearing regarding six sealed search warrants in the Zahra Baker investigation.

The Clerk of Court's Office said Monday hearings to unseal the warrants were continued to Jan. 3, which is the earliest available time in Superior Court after the court's holiday break. The District Attorney's Office didn't respond to a request for comment about the warrants' unsealing.

Additional warrants in the case were released two weeks ago after Judge Nathaniel J. Poovey ordered the warrants unsealed. The District Attorney's Office declined a hearing last week to discuss extending the documents' seal and told the court it wouldn't be ready for a hearing until the week of Dec. 13, according to court documents.

The most recent warrants, which were filed and sealed as recently as Dec. 7, will expire 30 days after their filing date, according to court documents.

The warrants detailed grisly information about Zahra's final days, including allegations of rape and dismemberment.

No one is charged in Zahra's death. Elisa Baker is in Catawba County jail on charges that she obstructed the police investigation into her stepdaughter's disappearance.

Court documents filed several weeks ago revealed Elisa Baker wanted a bond reduction after she led police to locations where they could find Zahra's remains.

Elisa Baker told police remains of the disabled cancer survivor could be found scattered in various locations throughout Catawba and Caldwell counties, including in the bathtub drain trap of the Bakers' former rental home in Hickory.

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