Plea deal in the works?
There’s been another postponement of a pre-trial hearing for Elisa Baker amid widespread speculation that a plea bargain is in the works.
The 43-year-old charged with the second-degree murder of her 10-year-old stepdaughter Zahra Baker was slated to appear in Catawba County Superior Court on Monday to learn where her trial will be held after Judge Timothy Kincaid ruled that a change of venue would be in order. However, Kincaid pushed back the hearing after the prosecution and defense said they needed to discuss undisclosed “issues” in the case.
Kincaid rescheduled the hearing for today, but a short press release from 25th Prosecutorial District Attorney Jay Gaither’s office on Tuesday indicated that, per Kincaid’s order, the hearing in the State of North Carolina vs. Elisa Annette Baker will take place Thursday, Sept. 15 at 9:30 a.m. at the Catawba County Justice Center.
Neither side has discussed what the issues may be, though there is speculation that a plea agreement may be in the works.
Gaither confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Elisa’s felony case files for identity theft and obtaining property by false pretense have been transferred from Caldwell to Catawba County for the purpose of being available for Thursday’s administrative hearing. He indicated it was a procedural matter for the sake of convenience for Kincaid, who is the presiding judge in all issues concerning Elisa.
Gaither did not elaborate on anything else regarding the case.
Lenoir News-Topic messages left Tuesday at the office of Elisa’s defense attorney, Scott Reilly, were not returned.
Neither side responded to inquiries about the matter on Monday as they left the courtroom headed to Gaither’s office inside the Catawba County Courthouse in Newton. Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins also went to Gaither’s office after the hearing.
Gaither and Reilly indicated during an Aug. 1 hearing that they have discussed plea offers but had not reached any kind of agreement.
Reilly told The Charlotte Observer on Monday night that he and Gaither are in discussions to resolve the case against Elisa.
“We’re having productive discussions, and we’re working toward the goal of resolving the cases,” he told the Observer in a story published Tuesday morning.
The Observer reported that Reilly would not discuss specifics of any plea deal but said he wants to advise his client on her best options based on the prosecution’s case.
Elisa could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. She could face as few as eight years.
She was jailed in October 2010 on an obstruction of justice charge for writing a fake ransom note in connection with Zahra’s disappearance, reported by her father Adam Baker a day earlier.
She later provided law enforcement with information that led to the recovery of some of the little girl’s dismembered remains in southern Caldwell County, including the prosthetic left leg she wore as a result of a battle with cancer. However, her skull was not part of the remains located by investigators.
Multiple media reports surfaced in early December that a plea arrangement was in place to take the death penalty and life in prison without parole off the table if Elisa is ever tried and convicted of the death of Zahra Baker. Gaither did comment at that time but later issued a statement that the death penalty and life in prison without parole would remain options.
On Feb. 21, Elisa was charged with the second-degree murder of Zahra after autopsy results showed that the Australian child died as a result of undetermined homicidal violence.
Three days later, defense attorney Lisa Dubs confirmed that she negotiated a deal between Elisa and Gaither to avoid a charge of first-degree murder. Gaither, who maintained there was no deal in place, declined to comment at that time on Dubs’ assertions.
Reilly filed the change of venue motion July 12, citing extensive media coverage as the primary reason. In his motion, he wrote that “pretrial publicity in this case has been such that the entire county is ‘infected’ with prejudice.” Gaither maintained an impartial jury could be seated in Catawba County.
During the Aug. 1 hearing, Kincaid agreed with Reilly and granted the venue change, though he scheduled the Sept. 12 hearing to divulge where the trial would take place.
Elisa also faces a host of misdemeanors in both counties, and she faces federal drug charges. She is scheduled for a federal court appearance in Statesville at 10 a.m. Nov. 7.