NEWTON, N.C. – Elisa Baker was sentenced to at least 177 months in prison Thursday after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the death of her stepdaughter, Zahra Baker.
The hearing was originally scheduled to discuss a change of venue for Baker's trial, but a plea deal was reached.
The hearing lasted about 5 1/2 hours with several witnesses taking the stand, but many details of the case, including how Zahra Baker died and where the rest of her remains are located, may never be known.
Media from all over the area and Zahra Baker's native Australia were in the courtroom. Baker's mother, Emily Dietrich, who came from Australia, addressed the judge and said she will never understand the pure evil that pulled her daughter apart like a human puzzle.
Her father, Adam, said Elisa Baker forever ruined his life, especially by casting a cloud of guilt around him. Adam Baker maintained he had nothing to do with the death of his daughter, and investigators who testified said all signs point to his innocence in the case.
Judge Timothy Kincaid, after accepting the plea agreement, said the case and the continued investigation to find Zahra Baker's remains will forever haunt the community.
After the hearing, Catawba County District Attorney Jay Gaither and Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins spoke about the case. Gaither said he believed the second-degree murder plea deal was favorable for both the state and for justice.
Gaither said Elisa Baker cooperated with law enforcement during the investigation for Zahra Baker's remains under the condition that they would seek first-degree murder if she was not truthful. Though he believes she wasn't completely truthful, Gaither said the second-degree charge was the best way to ensure she couldn't go free.
“We recognized that we didn't have enough evidence at that time to go forward with a first-degree murder conviction. We're not sure that Elisa Baker, at this point, is the perpetrator of the crime. That information has not been disclosed to us. We only know that she has information that will lead us to the body and she will inform us and disclose to us the manner in which the death occurred,” Gaither said.
An emotional Adkins said this case was very trying on everyone involved and it's still tough because they don't know the exact cause of the girl's death.
Elisa Baker faces a maximum of 222 months in prison. Gaither said she was all but guaranteed to serve a minimum of 15 years. Baker also faces unrelated federal drug charges.
(News 14 Carolina's Kate Gaier takes a closer look at Baker's plea deal in the video below:)
TWC News: Elisa Baker gets 14-18 years after guilty plea in murder of Zahra Baker
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