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Baker hearing postponed

September 13, 2011

A hearing to determine the venue for Elisa Baker’s second-degree murder trial was postponed Monday so attorneys in the case can resolve “issues that have surfaced.”

Neither the state nor Elisa’s defense attorney will disclose what the “issues” are, but both sides agree the situation can be resolved on Wednesday morning.

The court was supposed to decide on Monday where Elisa’s trial will be held, but the hearing was postponed after both sides said they needed to further discuss undisclosed “issues” in the case.

After the hearing that lasted less than five minutes on Monday, N.C. District 25 Attorney Jay Gaither did not comment to inquiries about the matter. Elisa’s defense attorney, Scott Reilly, also declined to comment on the issues as he was walking into Gaither’s office inside the Catawba County Courthouse in Newton.

Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins and two of Elisa’s step-daughters were also in the courtroom on Monday for the hearing. Adkins also went to Gaither’s office after the hearing.

Gaither and Reilly told the judge Aug. 1 that they have discussed plea offers, but have not come any type of agreement. Reilly had said he always discusses plea offers with the district attorney, but Gaither would not comment.  

Baker did not speak in court on Monday. She has been in jail since October 2010 and is charged with second-degree murder in the death of her stepdaughter, Zahra, as well as federal drug charges and a host of misdemeanors.

Zahra, a 10-year-old disabled girl who had survived cancer, first disappeared last fall. Investigators found Zahra’s body dismembered and scattered around Catawba County, and Elisa was charged with the murder in February.

After heavy media coverage of the case, Reilly said it would be impossible for his client to receive a fair trial in Catawba County – a claim that Kincaid agreed with last month.

“The counsel is correct that media has been more than journalism,” Kincaid said, adding that commentaries and speculation in media coverage could make potential jurors base their decision off news reports rather than court evidence.

Despite agreeing with Reilly last month, it is still unclear where the trial will move to.

Kincaid had asked both sides to come to court on Monday with a list of possible locations and has named examples of potential counties.

The court could also select a jury from another county and bring them here, a process that Kincaid had asked both benches to review.

Change of venue requests usually move to an adjoining prosecutorial district. However, Kincaid has said the superior court has the ability to change it to an area outside the adjoining district.

“I don’t think you are going to go anywhere and not find jurors that haven’t heard of (the case),” he has said.

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