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GA passes ‘Zahra’s Law’

June 14, 2011

The North Carolina General Assembly agreed Monday to make it illegal to dismember a body to conceal a crime.

The new law was initiated by the local district attorney’s office and will re-word an existing law to make dismembering a corpse to conceal a crime a Class C felony.

State representatives Mark Hilton and Tim Moore drafted the bill that has roots in the Zahra Baker case.

Baker is the 10-year-old Hickory girl who was originally reported missing Oct. 9. After her remains were found nearly a month later, Elisa Baker, Zahra's stepmother, was charged with second-degree murder.

Elisa claims her stepdaughter died of natural causes, but admits to helping dismember and conceal the body.

“It’s definitely connected to the case because the prosecutor is looking for crimes to charge with, and there’s nothing on the books to use,” Hilton said Tuesday. “That’s how most laws are created.”

Gov. Beverley Perdue still has to approve the law, but Hilton said the General Assembly gave the bill enough votes to override a veto.

“I handled it in committee, and it was unanimous,” Hilton said. “I would be surprised if anyone voted against it because it just makes sense.”

Hilton said the sooner that these statutes are “on the books,” the faster prosecutors can charge offenders justly.

“It will help bring justice for those who have these crimes committed against them in the future,” Hilton said. “Our job is to create these laws and make sure they are fair and bring justice.”

Moore said he was contacted by the Catawba County District Attorney’s Office last year about the bill.

“We were looking at our statues,” said Catawba County District Attorney Jay Gaither. “And we realized there was not a law addressing this issue.”

Gaither and his staff looked at how other states treated dismembering a corpse to conceal a crime and realized it is usually severely punished.

“It’s about respecting the dignities awarded to the remains of the deceased,” Gaither said.

Gaither said he makes statute recommendations to state representatives every year.

“As I go through my job to better protect children and better protect the community, I’m going to make that recommendation,” Gaither said.

“It’s something that I do every year.”

Hilton said thousands of laws are presented in the U.S. every year based off recommendations from district attorneys.

“This is not the first time that I’ve introduced laws like this before because prosecutors try to prosecute for something, but there is nothing on the books,” Hilton said. “When it was first proposed to me by the DA, I was surprised that some of these things were not felony crimes already.”

The bill would create three different felonies — the most serious crime punishable by a maximum of 13 years in prison.

Gov. Perdue had not made a decision about the law as of press time Tuesday.

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