RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina woman charged with killing her disabled, 10-year-old stepdaughter will be represented by a lawyer who's been working with her since before she was indicted this week.
Elisa Baker, 42, appeared for a status hearing on Tuesday to determine her lawyer, District Attorney James Gaither told The Associated Press Wednesday.
She was indicted Monday on a charge of second-degree murder in the death of her stepdaughter, Zahra Baker, a native of Australia who had a prosthetic leg and hearing aids because of bone cancer.
Gaither's office initially reported Wednesday that the proceeding had been an arraignment, at which a defendant typically enters a plea to the charges they're facing. That was a misunderstanding, Gaither said.
"Elisa was assigned an attorney, and that has to happen before the case can move forward. That's really all that happened at the hearing," Gaither said.
Elisa Baker was initially scheduled to be arraigned Friday, but that's been rescheduled for April 4.
On Tuesday, she was assigned attorney Scott Reilly, who had been representing her on other charges prior to her indictment this week. The other charges she faces range from bad checks to bigamy, and are mostly unrelated to Zahra. She's being held on a total bond amount of $307,700.
Zahra was first reported missing by her father, Adam, on Oct. 9, but authorities believe she probably died on Sept. 24. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner found the cause of death was "undetermined homicidal violence." A more precise finding has been thwarted by the fact that important parts of Zahra's body are still missing, most notably her skull.
Police almost immediately doubted the Bakers' story that Zahra had been kidnapped, authorities say. A few days after the girl was reported missing, Elisa Baker was charged with obstructing the investigation into Zahra's disappearance. Police say Elisa wrote a ransom note purportedly from kidnappers who were trying to snatch a different little girl.
Elisa Baker told police in interviews that Zahra had been dismembered, and led them to some of her remains at sites in Catawba and Caldwell counties, according to search warrants. She told police that her husband, Adam Baker, helped scatter the remains, but cell phone records showed he was in different locations on the days Elisa said Zahra's body parts were disposed of.
Adam Baker remains free on bond, facing charges unrelated to his daughter. Calls to his lawyer were not immediately returned.