DA thinks Elisa Baker can get a fair trial; Judge sets court dates

Zahra Baker
Zahra Baker
The court scene on Thursday.
The court scene on Thursday.
Elisa Baker
Elisa Baker

NEWTON,NC  (WBTV) – Elisa Baker was back in court Thursday for an administrative hearing before Judge Timothy Kincaid.

Kincaid set a hearing date of August 1 for a motion by the defense that the second degree murder trial of Baker be moved out of the county.

The motion, filed on Tuesday, claims the area "is infected with pre-trial prejudice." Kincaid did not comment on the merits of the motion on Thursday but said he will hear oral arguments at the hearing next month.

Baker wore a pink jumpsuit in court, her hair was pulled back and she appeared to be thinner. She didn't speak at all.

After Thursday's hearing, District Attorney James C. Gaither told reporters he felt confident that "Elisa Baker could get a fair and impartial jury in Catawba County." "We would like to see it take place here," he added.  Gaither said the decision, however, is entirely up to the judge.

Elisa Baker's charges have made national and international news after her 10-year-old stepdaughter from Australia was reported missing.

She later led authorities to an area in Caldwell County where some of the girl's dismembered remains were recovered. A medical examiner has not been able to establish an exact cause of death only listing "undetermined homicidal violence" on the death certificate.

In North Carolina, trials can be moved if a judge rules that pre-trial publicity has tainted a potential jury pool. The statutes say in that case a trial should be moved to an adjoining prosecutorial district. There is also a provision where the trial could move further away if both sides in the case are willing to waive the rules.

Gaither also announced in court that Michael Van Buren will be the lead prosecutor in the cases involving the death of Zahra Baker. Van Buren replaces Eric Bellas who was charged with drunk driving on a bicycle in Brunswick County last month. Bellas was put on administrative leave but has since been cleared to return to the District Attorney's office.

Elisa Baker is facing several charges unrelated to the Zahra Baker case and the District Attorney indicated to the judge that those matters should go to trial first. Gaither said later that those incidents happened before the Zahra Baker situation and therefore should be tried first.

Baker also faces federal drug charges and Gaither expects those cases to be resolved in the coming months. An arraignment hearing will be held on Monday, September 12.

Earlier this week, Zahra's father, Adam Baker, told WBTV he wants "justice for Zahra" and that he plans to be in court to "make sure Elisa gets what she deserves." (Click to read related story.)

He said he thinks about his daughter every day and that he has visited a memorial under construction on Christie Road in Caldwell county where some of Zahra's remains were found.

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