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Baker case may be county’s biggest

September 15, 2011

Throughout the Zahra Baker case, the phrase “crime of the century” has been tossed around by citizens and attorneys alike. Regardless of whether the mysterious slaying of the 10-year-old cancer survivor is the most notable crime in county history, one thing is fairly certain – it has been the most watched, read or listened to.

Since the time Zahra mysteriously disappeared on Oct. 9, television, radio and newspaper media have reported non-stop on the case that has been called “overwhelming” by the defense attorney and judge involved in the case.

“It is one of the bigger (cases) we have had in the history of the county,” said Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid. “A child was involved, and it’s always going to draw more attention when you have a young child involved.”

Since the beginning of the case in October, more than 7,000 articles have been published by news organizations around the world. More than 300 articles about the case have been published by Catawba County press alone.

Area television stations like WSOC TV have aired hundreds of broadcasts about the case, and radio stations around the state have also picked up the story.

The case is not just a local issue. National television programs, such as “The Nancy Grace Show,” have broadcast special segments about the case and media conglomerates such as CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and CBS, among others, have also aired coverage of the events.

Because one side of Zahra’s family is from Australia, the case has also been picked up internationally by newspapers, TV stations and radio in Australia.

The Internet has spread the case even more, as a search of “Elisa Baker” on Google yields about 32.2 million results in less than .15 seconds – a number of results that increases daily.

The media attention was so much that Elisa’s attorney, Scott Reilly, filed a change of venue motion in the case on July 12. In the motion, Reilly notes the amount of high profile coverage the case has received.

“The volume of the coverage of the case has been overwhelming,” Reilly said. “The pretrial publicity in this case has been such that the entire county is “infected” with prejudice.”

Reilly asked Superior Court Judge Timothy Kincaid to move the case elsewhere, a request the judge granted last month. The judge and attorneys were supposed to decide where the trial would move on Monday, but the hearing was postponed until today to allow the prosecution and defense time to discuss undisclosed “issues” in the case.

Now, reports and speculation are that those “issues” involve a plea agreement, which could put to rest what some officials deem one of the most high-profile cases in Catawba County history.

“It’s one of the top cases to draw the public in so much,” said Conover Police Chief Steve Brewer, who has worked in law enforcement his whole career and is a lifetime resident of Catawba County. “Certainly, it’s one of the most kept-up-with cases in the county’s history. I think a large part of that is because it involved a child.”

Brewer said the last case to garner so much attention involved Ted Elmore, a Catawba County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant who was shot in the line of duty on Nov. 11, 1971. Elmore succumbed to wounds he sustained in 1983 from the shooting, which occurred while he was making a traffic stop on U.S. 64-70.

According to memorial records, Elmore had stopped two suspects that had shot and wounded an Atlanta police officer several weeks earlier. As he exited his patrol car, the occupants of the vehicle opened fire, striking him in the right arm, disabling it. As he tried to draw his weapon with his left hand, he was shot again in the abdomen and fell to the ground. The assailants then shot him a third time, hitting him in the back, severing his spinal cord and causing paralysis.

He remained paralyzed until passing away 11 years later. It was determined that his passing was a direct result of his wounds, according to memorial information on odmp.org. One of the shooters was apprehended after the incident; however, the second shooter remained at large until being arrested in 2005.

Brewer said the deputy’s death and subsequent trial of his killers gained a lot of attention from the public because of Elmore’s status.

But other than Elmore’s case, Brewer and Reid said they agree that the Elisa Baker case is one of the most highly publicized and followed cases in Catawba County throughout the last century.

No matter what happens in court today, Brewer said one factor remains the same – a child died.

“It’s a very sad, sad thing,” Brewer said. “Whatever the outcome is, nobody is a winner because the child has lost her life.”

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