Zahra Baker case drives DA to seek new abuse law

Failing to report abuse would become felony
Mar. 21, 2013 @ 01:42 AM

Adam Baker apparently was not involved in the killing and dismemberment of his 11-year-old daughter, Zahra, in 2010. But he knew Zahra had been abused by his wife, and he never tried to stop it.

District Attorney Jay Gaither says Adam Baker should have faced consequences for sitting by while the abuse occurred, but there was no law in place for charges to be filed.

Gaither wants to change that. He recently presented to state legislators a proposal that would make it a crime to fail to report child abuse, abandonment or neglect. His proposal also would make it a felony if the child suffers serious bodily injury or death as a result of that failure.

“If we had legislation like this in place, we would have found Adam Baker in violation. He was a terribly negligent and absent father,” Gaither said.

The bill was drafted by Michael Van Buren, lead prosecutor for child sex offenses for Burke, Caldwell and Catawba counties. The draft was disseminated to various social services agencies.

Baker’s wife, Elisa, was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Zahra, her stepdaughter. Zahra disappeared in October 2010, and her remains were found some time later at sites scattered throughout southern Caldwell County. The plea deal accepted by Baker in September also included findings of aggravating factors in the crime that included a pattern of verbal, physical and psychological abuse toward Zahra.

Adam Baker was not implicated in her death and has returned to his native Australia.

Gaither has also presented two other unrelated bills. One seeks to give judges more discretion in sentencing first-time felony drug offenders. Since then-Gov. Beverly Perdue signed the Justice Reinvestment Act into law in June 2011, judges are required to sentence first-time offenders to probation and drug education programs instead of prison.

The JRA made substantial changes to the law regarding sentencing and corrections in North Carolina, and was the most sweeping changes to the Structured Sentencing Act since its passage in 1994.

The other proposal would make breaking or entering buildings a felony if the building is occupied at the time the crime is committed.