Elisa Baker has been sentenced to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to the murder of her 10-year-old stepdaughter, Zahra Baker.
Zahra, who had lost a leg to bone cancer and was hearing-impaired, was murdered and dismembered in the fall of 2010, her remains found scattered in various locations around North Carolina.
Baker, 43, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Zahra's death. Elisa Baker also entered a guilty plea to obstruction of justice in an unrelated case.
Adam Baker had brought his daughter from their native Australia to North Carolina after meeting Elisa online. He reported Zahra missing from their Hickory, N.C., home on Oct. 9, 2010, although authorities believe the girl had been killed more than two weeks earlier.
Multiple searches were conducted for Zahra but authorities were unable to locate her.
On Oct. 23, 2010, Elisa Baker's lawyer contacted the district attorney’s office and indicated her client had information that would solve the mystery of the disappearance of Zahra Baker. There were, however, conditions to her cooperation.
"First, in exchange for ending the search for Zahra Baker and ending the mystery that surrounded her death, the prosecution of Elisa Baker would be limited to second-degree murder so long as her statement to law enforcement was truthful," District Attorney James C. Gaither said in a press release today.
"Second, in the event that it was determined that Elisa Baker was not truthful, she could be prosecuted for first-degree murder, but her statements and evidence would be excluded," the district attorney continued. "In other words, Elisa Baker's statements would be admissible only in a prosecution of second-degree murder or less."
After consulting with local law enforcement about the probability of finding Zahra’s remains, the prosecutor's office agreed to the terms.
Elisa Baker's statements led authorities to several locations where investigators recovered Zahra's dismembered body.
In February, Elisa Baker was indicted for second-degree murder. The indictment handed up by a grand jury in Catawba County, N.C., asserted that Baker had "a history and pattern of physical, verbal and psychological abuse of the victim" and that she had "desecrated the victim's body" to hinder detection.
Zahra's father has not been named a suspect in connection with his daughter's death.
"We hope and pray this conviction will bring closure to the family of Zahra and the community," Gaither said.
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