Elisa Baker pleads guilty to federal drug charge, faces 20 years

CHARLOTTE โ€” The North Carolina woman sentenced to prison for killing her 10-year-old disabled stepdaughter also pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal drug charge.

Prosecutors agreed to drop six other charges after Elisa Baker entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Charlotte to one count of conspiracy to sell drugs. She faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million dollar fine at her sentencing, which hasn't been scheduled yet.

Prosecutors say that between 2006 and 2010, Baker helped distribute more than 50,000 painkillers and anti-anxiety pills in Catawba and Caldwell counties.

In September, Baker was sentenced to up to 18 years in prison for the death of her disabled stepdaughter, Zahra Baker โ€” a freckle-faced girl who used a prosthetic leg and hearing aids after a bone cancer fight.

In federal court, Elisa Baker, 43, dressed in a jail-issued red jumpsuit, showed no emotion as Magistrate David Keesler disclosed details of the plea agreement.

The magistrate said she conspired to distribute 22,000 doses of the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone, and 29,000 doses of the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam. Some of the crimes took place during a period when Zahra Baker lived with her.

"Are you guilty of this crime?" Keelser asked her.

"Yes," she said in almost a whisper.

It was an anticlimatic moment in a case that has attracted international attention.

Adam Baker came to the United States from Australia with his daughter in 2008 after meeting Elisa online.

In October, 2010, they reported Zahra missing from their home in Hickory. Initially, Elisa and Adam Baker told police they believed their daughter had been kidnapped, but that story quickly unraveled as police arrested Elisa and charged her with forging a ransom note.

Elisa Baker later told police Zahra had been dismembered, and led them to some of her remains at sites in Catawba and Caldwell counties. She told police that Adam Baker helped scatter the remains, but police said he had nothing to do with his daughter's death.

Zahra's death was caused by "undetermined homicidal violence," medical examiners said.

An autopsy was conducted even though authorities hadn't recovered many bones, most notably the girl's skull, months after she was reported missing. Several bones showed cutting tool marks consistent with dismemberment.

Police also said Elisa had physically abused the girl, and that she sold drugs out of the home where they lived.

It was part of a pattern in Elisa's life. The case revealed her as a woman with a troubled past, constantly shifting addresses and staying one step ahead of bill collectors and county social service agencies investigating reports of child abuse. 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.

Those who knew Elisa described her as an attractive high school student who became manipulative, cunning and insecure, struggling with obesity. By the time she met Adam, she had immersed in an online world of assumed identities and grandiose stories about her past, according to records and friends.

The Observer News Enterprise has exclusive details on Adam's plea deal entered in Catawba County on Thursday: www.observernewsonline.com/content/breaking-baker-felonies-reduced-recei...