- Special Sections
Elisa Baker's feet shuffled unsteadily as she grasped for a chair Monday in Catawba County Superior Court.
Scott Reilly helped his client to a chair and poured water for her into a paper cup before proceeding with his arguments.
The pressure of an impending murder charge is apparently getting to Baker, who swooned in court Monday after Reilly complained his client was being "selectively prosecuted" and won't receive a fair trial in Catawba County.
Baker's court appearance for charges of felony obstruction of justice and second-degree murder was set for the April 4 administrative calendar in Catawba County Superior Court. Reilly's cases are usually heard Tuesdays, but he came into court Monday to resolve another matter unrelated to the Baker case. Reilly said Monday he had no intention of having Baker's cases heard before a judge and planned to ask for a continuance.
The District Attorney's Office, however, wanted Superior Court Judge Eric L. Levinson to hear the cases Monday. Assistant District Attorney Eric Bellas said Monday was the third administrative setting for Baker's obstruction of justice charge, which stems from a phony ransom note Baker allegedly wrote after her stepdaughter Zahra Baker was reported missing.
Bellas maintained that, while Reilly and Baker were entitled to another administrative setting in the second-degree murder charge, it was time to set a trial date for Baker's alleged obstruction of justice. Bellas suggested tentatively setting the trial for the week of May 23.
Reilly protested, saying he has a trial in Caldwell County that week with Bellas, and that date wouldn't work. Reilly argued that he needed more time with information prosecutors provided him with regarding Baker's obstruction of justice charge.
Bellas disagreed with Reilly's request for more time, saying Reilly received the prosecution's discovery file Dec. 1. Reilly told Levinson, however, that some of the discs containing police interviews with Baker didn't play when he attempted to listen to them.
Levinson told the prosecution and the defense that, regardless of when the case was heard, Baker needed to be present in the courtroom.
"I can only deal with things in court with the defendant present, if the defendant is available," Levinson said.
Sheriff's deputies led Baker into court, and she stood beside Reilly as he discussed how he hopes to see the case continue in the coming months.
Reilly told the judge that he intends to have Baker's obstruction of justice and second-degree murder charges tried separately. Reilly also said he plans to file a motion to move Baker's felony cases outside of Catawba County.
Levinson decided not to schedule Baker's obstruction of justice case on the Catawba County trial calendar in anticipation that the case won't be heard in the county.
"I'm not going to move it to the trial calendar yet, because I know a motion for a change of venue is coming," Levinson said.
Levinson also chose to take no action about trying the cases separately or together, saying he assumed Reilly would later file a motion to separate the charges.
"Today, I'm not going to separate them, but that doesn't mean I won't," Levinson told Reilly and Bellas, adding that Baker's next administrative hearing is set for June 27.
District Attorney Jay Gaither, who was present in the courtroom for Baker's hearing, spoke with the media Monday outside the Catawba County Detention Center.
He said the push from the District Attorney's Office to have the case heard is part of making progress on the Baker case.
"Clearly, the state is ready to move forward at a reasonable pace, but a fast pace," Gaither said.
As for Reilly's assertions that Baker won't receive a fair trial, Gaither said that isn't true.
"I believe that the people of Catawba County have the ability to put aside the media and the hyperbole and give her a fair trial," Gaither said.