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DA: Murder charges still possible

December 7, 2010

Capital murder charges remain a possibility for the Hickory woman jailed on charges she interfered with the investigation into her stepdaughter's death.

The District Attorney's Office released a statement Tuesday about the case after several media outlets reported this weekend that Elisa Baker made a deal with prosecutors to receive life imprisonment, instead of the death penalty, in exchange for reliable information leading to the recovery of 10-year-old Zahra Baker's body.

Those reports, according to the District Attorney's Office, are false.

"If the investigation determines that Elisa Baker is not involved in the death of Zahra Baker, she will not be charged," the statement said. "If, on the other hand, there is sufficient and credible evidence to prove that Elisa Baker was involved in the death of Zahra Baker, the state is under no obligation to limit charges."

In the statement, the office said it followed Rule 3.6 of the North Carolina State Bar Association, which requires lawyers to refrain from pretrail statements that could prejudice adjudicative proceedings.

"However, when false or misleading statements are made that publicly cause prejudice to the process, the prosecutor has the responsibility of publicly responding to minimize the adverse impact," according to the District Attorney's Office.

North Carolina State Bar Association Rule 3.6 also states that "there are vital interests served by the free dissemination of information about events having legal consequences and about legal proceedings themselves. The public has a right to know about threats to its safety."

The District Attorney's Office said Elisa Baker maintains her innocence in connection with Zahra's death, and she is cooperating with authorities.

Elisa Baker's collaboration with police was confirmed last week after the release of 11 search warrants relating to Zahra's search.

The warrants contain graphic details about how Elisa Baker showed police where Zahra's body was dumped at various locations in Caldwell and Catawba counties.

Elisa Baker told police the child's body was dismembered, and investigators could find human remains in the drain trap of the family's former rental home, in dumpsters in Hickory and Hudson.

Although Elisa Baker maintains her innocence in Zahra's death, the recently unsealed search warrants revealed Elisa Baker was untruthful when taking a polygraph test during the investigation.

Authorities asked Elisa Baker if she hurt Zahra and if anyone else harmed the child, and Elisa Baker showed deception on those questions.

Elisa Baker is in Catawba County jail under a $97,200 bond for obstructing justice and other charges.

The District Attorney's Office didn't mention Zahra's father, Adam Baker, in its statement Tuesday. Adam Baker was previously appointed capital defender Mark Killian in connection with Zahra's death. Killian was later removed from the case after no charges were filed against Adam Baker.

Adam Baker was arrested during the course of Zahra's investigation on charges unrelated to the child's disappearance and death. He is out of jail on bond.

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