LENOIR, N.C. — The father of a 10-year-old disabled girl who was murdered by her stepmother in western North Carolina is back in his native Australia, despite facing unresolved criminal charges in the United States.
Attorney Shell Pearce said Monday that his client, Adam Baker, left the country roughly two weeks ago at the behest of federal immigration officials, bringing the remains of his daughter, Zahra, with him for burial in Australia. However, Vincent Picard, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an email Monday that Baker had "voluntarily departed" the U.S., which Pearce disputed.
"He didn't have a choice in the matter," Pearce said. "This was not a surprise for us. We knew this was coming."
Adam Baker moved to the state in 2008 after marrying a North Carolina woman he met online.
In October 2010, Baker and his wife, Elisa, reported that Zahra, who had a prosthetic leg and hearing aids after a battle with cancer, was missing from their home in Hickory. The story that Zahra had been kidnapped quickly fell apart, and Elisa Baker was jailed on a charge of interfering with a police investigation.
Police eventually found some of Zahra's remains, although they never located her head. They concluded she had been dismembered after dying of causes that are still undetermined.
Last year, Elisa Baker pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Zahra's death.
"I trusted you with the most precious person in my life," Adam Baker told her in court after the guilty plea.
Pearce said he didn't want to reveal Baker's exact location in Australia, but that officials with that country's diplomatic mission in the U.S. confirmed last week that the man had arrived.
Baker was facing misdemeanor charges which were unrelated to his daughter's death. Picard said local authorities knew of the plans for him to return to Australia before the cases were resolved.
"Local authorities were notified of Mr. Baker's return plans at least 48 hours prior to his departure and indicated that they had no interest in pursuing his case," Picard wrote.