Jail looming

Adam Baker thought he’d be home next week, but will instead serve 30 days in Caldwell County jail.

Baker, the father of slain 10-year-old Zahra and an Australian citizen, was expecting to return home next week, but will now serve jail time after being convicted of misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon in Caldwell County Thursday evening.

Baker’s appearance and conviction in Caldwell County court followed a successful plea deal in Catawba County Thursday morning.

Adam’s felony charges in Catawba County of obtaining property by false pretenses and identity theft were dismissed Thursday after he, the state and Superior Court Judge Beverly T. Beal consented to a plea deal that placed him on unsupervised probation.

He pleaded guilty to taking electricity unlawfully and was required to pay restitution of almost $350, which he paid Thursday morning. He also received a suspended sentence of 45 days in jail and was given 18 months of unsupervised probation.

“The charges against Adam Baker stemmed from Mr. Baker’s use of the name of James Starbuck, Mr. Baker’s step son-in-law, for the purpose of gaining electrical service to the house rented by Mr. Baker and Elisa Baker,” District 25 Attorney James C. Gaither said in an e-mailed statement Thursday. “If convicted of the felony charges, Mr. Baker would most likely face a suspended sentence on probation.”

It is the decision of the State that it is not in the interest of justice to pursue a felony conviction of Mr. Baker given the evidence against Mr. Baker, Mr. Baker’s lack of any prior criminal conviction and given the likelihood that a felony conviction of the pending charges would result in a probationary sentence,” his statement continued.

Baker then traveled to Caldwell County, where he hoped to also get probation for nine misdemeanor charges he faced there, including two counts of communicating threats, failure to return rental property and six counts of worthless checks, in addition to the assault charge.

District Court Judge Robert Mullinax Jr. on Thursday found Adam Baker guilty of assault with a deadly weapon in Caldwell County District Court after a motion for dismissal filed by his attorney, Shell Pearce, was denied. Baker was sentenced to 30 days of jail time by Mullinax.

Two charges of communicating threats were dismissed, and four outstanding charges of writing worthless checks have yet to be adjudicated. A notice of appeal was filed, and Baker will be free on a written promise to appear until the appeal is heard, said Baker’s Catawba County attorney, Mark Killian.

After the court docket was cleared for the day, the assault with a deadly weapon trial began. The alleged victims, Zachary Baird and Brittany Bentley, told the court how, on May 13, 2010, Baker was following the couple on Horseshoe Bend Road, just off Cajah’s Mountain Road. They both said Baker tried to run them off the road after a dispute with Elisa Baker about money owed for pocketbooks.

“I was scared for my life, and my daughter’s life,” Bentley said afterward.

Baker said he simply was trying to get the couple’s attention because they had been driving around for about an hour trying to find a store to cash their checks for money.

The two dismissed charges of communicating threats stemmed from a confrontation at a convenience store later that evening.

Baker had known the couple since December 2008. Zachary Baird’s mother is Elisa Baker’s sister. Baker told the court he considered the couple family and had no previous problems with them.

After the court hearing, Baker had little to say. During a courtroom break before the hearing began, Baker summed up his legal woes in one short statement.

“I just want to get this over and done with,” he said quietly, shaking his head.

Going into Thursday, Baker and Killian were hopeful that he would be able to return home with Zahra’s remains after resolving his charges. He and Killian both said Thursday that Immigrations and Customs
Enforcement were expected to lift a detainer against Baker with the charges resolved.

Adam has said for months that he wants to return to Australia to bury Zahra’s remains. Last month, the medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill released the girl’s remains to a Hickory funeral home, which cremated the remains and gave them to Adam.

“I’ve spoken with (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement), and they intend to deport him,” Killian told reporters after the plea hearing on Thursday. “I feel that’s a very suitable disposition considering what Adam has gone through.”

Killian said all of Baker’s charges “stem back to her,” referring to Elisa, who was sentenced earlier this year to 14 to 18 years in prison for murdering Zahra in 2010. She is expected to face another 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to federal drug charges on Thursday.

After meeting Elisa via the Internet, Baker and Zahra traveled to North Carolina to live with her. Killian said Elisa manipulated Adam to commit many of the crimes.

He said Baker’s Catawba County charges related to unlawfully reconnecting electricity stemmed from Elisa’s “scheming” and “deception.”

According to state prosecutors, Adam used the personal information of James Starbuck, Elisa’s son-in-law, to obtain electricity from Duke Energy unlawfully in August 2010.

Baker was charged with two felonies in relation to the crime, but those were dismissed and reduced to a misdemeanor charge on Thursday. He paid a restitution fee of $349.25.

“The man from the get-go has been a victim of this woman’s scheming,” Killian told a Catawba County court on Thursday, adding that Elisa deceived Adam from the first time she met him in Australia.

Though Elisa was sentenced for Zahra’s death, Adam was never charged.

Investigators and prosecutors determined in 2011 that “there is no evidence to suggest (Adam) was involved” in Zahra’s death.

When his charges are finally taken care of, Adam hopes to head home to bury his daughter’s remains.

Lenoir News-Topic reporter Kim Gilliland contributed to this report.