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Elisa Baker maintains she's innocent.
Baker â€” who pleaded guilty last month to killing 10-year-old Zahra Baker â€” insisted in a recent jail interview with The Charlotte Observer that she did not kill Zahra and was an unwilling participant in covering up the girl's death.
The Observer reported Sunday that 43-year-old Elisa Baker portrayed herself as a loving stepmother who was only following her lawyer's advice in pleading guilty.
"I pled guilty, but I'm not guilty," she told reporters in a 30-minute interview at the Mecklenburg County jail. Zahra was "the light of my eyes."
Baker was sentenced to 15-18 years in prison for second-degree murder after pleading guilty Sept. 15, nearly a year after Zahra was reported missing. Initially, Elisa and Adam Baker told police Zahra had been kidnapped from their Hickory home, but that story quickly unraveled as police arrested Elisa Baker and charged her with forging a ransom note.
She later told investigators that Zahra had been dismembered and led them to some of her scattered remains, though parts of her body, including her skull, are still missing. Authorities still don't know how she died.
The disappearance of the freckled-face girl who wore a prosthetic leg and hearing aids because of her fight with cancer received national headlines last fall.
Baker told reporters she wouldn't have gotten a fair trial anywhere.
Her lawyer, Scott Reilly, said he advised her to take the deal because the evidence against her was so strong. He noted that included her inconsistent statements, acknowledgment that her husband wasn't around when Zahra died, blood splatter on the girl's bedroom ceiling and cellphone records that put her where the remains were discarded.
"You take all that and put it together, and I think it's very likely that a jury is going to return a verdict of guilty in five minutes," Reilly said.
Baker told reporters she returned from running an errand Sept. 24, 2010, to find Zahra dead in her bed. She went on to blame her husband for all that happened next, saying she wanted to call 9-1-1 but he was afraid because he and Zahra were living in the country illegally.
The Bakers reported their daughter missing on Oct. 9, 2010.
She reiterated previous claims that he dismembered her body and disposed of the remains, but investigators have already said that's a lie. They found proof that Adam was working that morning with another man on a landscaping project.
Adam Baker came to the U.S. from Australia with his daughter in 2008 after meeting Elisa online. He has not been charged in his daughter's death, and he angrily confronted his wife in court last month.
"There are no words to explain the hate I have for you," he said then, and he begged her to tell the location of the rest of the remains.
Still, according to her version of the events, she only went along as a passenger on the ride to scatter her remains because she grew up in the area, and he asked her to point out locations where remains wouldn't be found. She said she had no choice but to follow orders.
"I couldn't look," she said. "It would have killed me what he had done. ... I took blame for everything and I shouldn't have. I'm very angry he's not here."
In court, however, Capt. Thurman Whisnant testified that while cell phone records placed her in the area of the remains, Adam Baker's records put him in another county.
Adam Baker's attorney said she's just bringing up old, already-disproven allegations.
"This is part of her effort to evade ultimate responsibility for what she has already admitted to doing in open court â€” killing Zahra," said attorney Mark Killian.
While she depicted herself as subservient to her husband and doting on her stepdaughter, police in court painted a picture of a manipulative woman who habitually bent the truth.
Police also described three cases where witnesses saw Elisa beat Zahra. Once the child attended school with two black eyes and was afraid to go home.
The Associated Press found that she has been married seven times, including several overlapping marriages. During those marriages, former husbands told the AP that Elisa beat her three children and that Social Service agencies in several counties had investigated the abuse.
Police said Elisa and Adam Baker had been married a year before she divorced her previous husband of 10 years. Elisa Baker also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, bigamy, identity fraud and obtaining property by false pretenses.
She still faces federal charges of distributing painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs. A hearing on those charges was recently postponed to January.