DA discusses emotions of trial

Throughout the past 11 months, the Zahra Baker case has wore on many Catawba County citizens emotionally – even the area’s district attorney.

N.C. District 25 Attorney Jay Gaither said while he, his office and area law enforcement were forced to put emotions aside during the case, he said certain details of the event definitely touched everyone.

“Emotions come on me quickly and come on me strong,” Gaither said.

“There were a couple of occasions specifically where it was hard to not get emotionally involved.”

The Zahra Baker case involved more than the brutal murder of the 10-year-old handicapped girl. Details surfaced on Thursday about how Zahra’s mother and murderer, Elisa Baker, psychologically and physically abused the young girl before dismembering and concealing her body.

Elisa tormented Zahra, and investigators told the court detailed stories on Thursday of how the now-convicted murderer treated the girl. Zahra would come to school with black eyes, investigators said, and would urinate in her pants at school – all details that Gaither said were hard to not get emotionally connected to.    

In addition to the heartbreaking details that were delivered on Thursday, Gaither said there are two stories related to the case that he can’t talk about without his eyes turning red and crying.

One of those stories is set in a time months before her murder occurred.  
When Zahra was in school and having a difficult home life, a 9-year-old boy took an interest in her, became her friend, wrote her notes and sent them to her, Gaither said. Later, after her death, investigators searched Zahra’s home and found numerous notes that had been taken by Elisa and never given to the little girl.

“Here she is, dealing with an alien environment with prosthetic limbs, and here’s a good enough boy where he writes her notes to make her feel good,” Gaither said. “And her mom takes them and hides them so she feels more isolated. It’s a level of cruelty that almost surpasses the cruelty of killing her.”

Gaither said while the murder and dismemberment are cruel, the psychological, emotional and physical abuse Elisa also pleaded to are very sad, too.

“It’s the things that happened far in advance that bother me the most,” Gaither said. “She was young and confused and subject to psychological, emotional and physical abuse. To have that happen to you from what’s supposed to be a safe environment – you can’t reach out to anybody.”

Despite the sadness of the case, Gaither said it was his office’s intention to remain professional throughout.  

“Some people have the ability to express their emotions and get some cathartic relief. A prosecutor has to compartmentalize that immediately and effectively,” Gaither said.   

After all is said and done, Gaither said he is pleased with how he, his office and law enforcement handled their emotions.

“In this instance, I would have taken every opportunity to prosecute (Elisa) to the upmost,” Gaither said. “I prosecuted her to the upmost, which was less than what I wanted and less than the community wanted.”