Zahra's law takes effect Thursday

On Thursday, it will become illegal in North Carolina to dismember a body to conceal a crime.

N.C. Session Law 2011-193, also known as “Zahra’s Law,” will go into effect. The new law makes it a felony to disturb, vandalize or desecrate a human body in an attempt to conceal a death or murder.

The law was initiated by the district 25 attorney’s office and will re-word an existing law to make dismembering a corpse to conceal a crime up to a Class D felony.

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

Zahra is the 10-year-old disabled girl who was originally reported missing Oct. 9,
2010. After her remains were found nearly a month later, Elisa Baker was charged with second-degree murder in relation to her death.

Despite pleading guilty to her charges in September 2011, Elisa maintains Zahra died of natural causes and says she only helped dismember and conceal the body.

The district 25 attorney’s office, which initiated discussion for the law, wanted to charge Elisa for dismembering the body, but there were no laws making the act illegal, said District 25 Attorney Jay Gaither.

“We were looking at our statues, and we realized there was not a law addressing this issue,” Gaither said. “We did a search in the state statutes and did not find the word dismemberment.”

Gaither said he and his staff looked at how the crime is treated in other states, where dismembering a body to conceal a crime is often a felony offense.

His office then drafted the first version of a bill that was read, rewritten and voted into law on June 23, 2011.

“There are things that the legislature doesn’t anticipate. We’re glad we have legislators that are receptive to prosecutors bringing things to them that need amendments and need things enacted,” Gaither said. “It’s a shame it wasn’t in effect beforehand.”

The law creates three different felonies — the most serious crime punishable as a Class D felony.

According to the law, "any person who dismembers or destroys human remains while knowing or having reason to know the human remains are of a person that did not die of natural causes shall be guilty of a Class D felony."

Other laws that go into affect Dec. 1:

“Laura’s Law”
The law calls for stiffer penalties for repeat DWI offenders whose cases have other aggravating factors. It also gives judges the ability to require some offenders to wear alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelets for much longer than the current 60-day limit.

The law is named for Laura Fortenberry, a17-year-old from Gaston County who was killed in a July 2010 vehicle crash.

Unborn Victims of Violence Act/“Ethen’s Law”
Creates criminal offenses for acts that cause the death or injury of an unborn child or are committed against a pregnant woman.

“Run and You’re Done” Law
Provides for the seizure, forfeiture and sale of motor vehicles used by defendants in felony cases involving fleeing to elude arrest. The law demands that all vehicles involved in felony fleeing to elude arrest charges be seized and handed over to the county sheriff.