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Bakers' appointed attorneys removed

December 2, 2010

Capital defenders appointed to represent Zahra Baker's father and stepmother were removed from their positions Wednesday.

The North Carolina Capital Defender's Office in Raleigh confirmed the removal Thursday, saying the provisional counsel appointments weren't meant to be long term.

Lisa Dubs and Mark Killian, two Hickory attorneys were appointed to represent Elisa and Adam Baker, respectively, on what the Capital Defender's Office called "imminent" murder charges in Zahra's death.

N.C. Capital Defender Robert M. Hurley appointed Dubs on Oct. 18 to represent Elisa Baker. He said at the time Baker appeared to be law enforcement's main suspect in the case, and the appointment of Dubs as a capital defender was a precautionary measure.

"In the weeks that followed, there's been no arrest and no indictment," Hurley said Thursday. "... It was never meant to be a long-term appointment."

Dubs is a high-profile Hickory attorney specializing in murder charges and other serious felonies. Killian, who is also a Hickory-based attorney, is on the capital defender registry and was appointed Oct. 28 to represent Adam Baker.

Adam and Elisa Baker were jailed after Zahra was reported missing on charges unrelated to the child's disappearance.

Elisa Baker later admitted to writing a bogus ransom note found on the former Baker rental home in Hickory the day Zahra was reported missing. She is charged with felony obstruction of justice and remains in Catawba County jail under a $97,200 bond.

Adam Baker was arrested in October on outstanding warrants for charges unrelated to his daughter's disappearance and death. He bonded out of jail several days after his arrest.

Zahra Baker was reported missing Oct. 9. Since that day, disturbing details have continued to emerge in the case, including allegations of physical abuse and sexual violence against the then 10-year-old Australian native.

The Capital Defender's Office's removal announcement comes one day after Hickory Police announced Wednesday they received confirmation from the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation that DNA evidence from bones collected in the Dudley Shoals area of Caldwell County matches a DNA sample taken from items believed to be Zahra's.

Police await the compilation of Zahra's DNA profile created from cheek swabs of her mother and father.

Hurley said letters were sent to Killian and Dubs on Wednesday alerting them of their removal from the cases.

"I didn't terminate the appointment because they did anything wrong," Hurley said, adding both Dubs and Killian served their clients well during their counsel.

Since no charges were filed against Adam and Elisa Baker, Hurley said he didn't want to continue employing Dubs and Killian at taxpayers' expense.

Although neither attorney submitted a bill to the office as of Thursday, Hurley said they are paid $85 a hour for their services.

District Attorney Jay Gaither spoke against the appointment of capital defenders for Adam and Elisa Baker, saying North Carolina General Statues provided for a capital defender's appointment only after a defendant is charged with murder.

No one is charged in Zahra's death.

Gaither didn't respond Thursday to requests from The O-N-E seeking comment.

In a previous e-mail statement to The O-N-E, Gaither said the District Attorney's Office "is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that proper administrative procedures are followed. While we recognize the right of individuals to legal counsel, we also recognize the obligation of the Capital Defender's Office to follow its own rules and to observe the difference between a legitimate and illegitimate state interest."

Hurley said Thursday that Dubs and Killian's removal from the cases was already in progress before Gaither expressed concern regarding the appointments' legality.

"It's not related to the comments made in the appointments," Hurley said. "Prior to the DA making comments on the validity of the appointments, we had determined if there was not an indictment or arrest in the near future, we would allow the appointments to expire."

The removal of Dubs and Killian, however, doesn't mean murder charges won't be brought against Adam or Elisa Baker, Hurley said.

In the event that one or both of the Bakers are charged with murder, Hurley said he would consider a capital defender based on the needs of the clients.

Hurley said Dubs and Killian can also choose to stay on the Baker cases, should they choose to work pro bono.

The Lenoir News-Topic contributed to this report.

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