Fair trial possible?

Area citizens will not decide Elisa Baker’s fate after a judge granted a change of venue request last week, a ruling that stirs mixed emotions for Catawba County residents.

Some people believe the accused child murderer would "get what she deserves” in Catawba County, but others say it is only fair to move the case to another county.

Newton resident Robby Brooks said he has followed Elisa’s case from the beginning and said the trial should have remained here.

“That woman ought to be hung up, tied and beat the dog out of her,” Brooks said. “What happened to that little girl was uncalled for. I know she is guilty, and if I was on the jury, she wouldn’t walk.”

Elisa is charged with second-degree murder in the death of her 10-year-old step-daughter, Zahra. A cancer survivor, Zahra had lost a leg and lived with a hearing impairment. After Elisa and her husband, Adam Baker, reported Zahra missing in October, Elisa was arrested for obstruction of justice after she admitted to writing a fake ransom note.

After Zahra’s dismembered body was found, Elisa was charged with second-degree murder, in addition to a host of misdemeanors.

The judge in Elisa’s case granted a venue change to prevent potential jurors with pre-trial emotions like Brooks from getting involved.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Kincaid agreed with arguments from Elisa’s attorney, Scott Reilly, on Monday that it would be hard to find 12 impartial jurors in Catawba County. He granted Reilly’s venue change request, but the new trial locations have yet to be determined. Kincaid, Reilly, and the Catawba County District Attorney’s Office will meet again on Sept. 12 to discuss potential moves.

Now, with a change of venue in the near future, citizens like Brooks feel Elisa might get off the hook.

“She needs to be put away for life in prison,” Brooks said. “The fake ransom note that she wrote – it leads straight to her.”

Other citizens, like Newton-resident Harry Williams, believe that moving the trial is the right decision.

“Everybody needs a fair trial,” Williams said. “They should take her to somewhere where no one knows about what’s going on. They might have heard something, but they won’t have the same information that everyone around here does.”  

Like Williams alludes to, publicity has been a major issue in the run-up to Elisa’s trial. Reilly, who wants the trial moved “as far away as possible,” said the overwhelming amount of prejudicial media has “poisoned” the minds of Catawba County citizens – potential jurors.

Williams agrees that Elisa would not get a fair trial here, and said he would like to see the case moved eastward. Williams is a retired state trooper and said he got his start in the 1924 courthouse.

“It is more fair that way, and the trial will be more fair,” Williams said.
Many citizens polled by The O-N-E said Elisa could not receive a fair trial in Catawba County, but did not wish to comment on their personal opinion of her guilt.

Elisa is scheduled to appear in court next on Sept. 12 for arguments about where the case should move to in addition to her arraignment.