10 years tacked onto Elisa Baker's prison time
Elisa Baker will be at least 72 years old before she could possibly be set free from prison.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Vorhees sentenced Baker, 44, who gained infamy from the investigation into the death and dismemberment of her stepdaughter, to 10 years in prison for one count of conspiracy with intent to distribute prescription drugs.
The federal sentence is to be served at the end of her 18-year sentence in state prison for aggravated second-degree murder in the death of 10-year-old Zahra Baker. Federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole. If she lives long enough to be released, Baker also will have to serve three years on supervised probation.
“Nothing can bring back Zahra and what the community feels justice commands,” District Attorney James C. Gaither said before the hearing in U.S. District Court in Statesville. “Credit has to be given to the federal investigation and getting a guilty plea.”
Zahra Baker disappeared in October 2010, and her remains were found some time later at several sites throughout southern Caldwell County. Baker was accused of killing Zahra and dismembering her. She pleaded guilty in September 2011 and was sentended to between 14 years 9 months and 18 years 6 months in prison.
Elisa Baker seemed disconnected during Monday's hour-long sentencing hearing, and frequently rocked from side to side at the defense table. At one point, a 10-minute recess was called so Baker could step out and compose herself before her sentence was read. Her attorney, Rahwa Gebre-Egziabher of the Charlotte-based Federal Defenders of Western North Carolina, asked Vorhees to have part of Baker's drug sentence run at the same time as the murder sentence.
“She will be very much in her 60s when this sentence commences,” she told Vorhees. "One-hundred twenty months is a long sentence. She has made tremendous progress since her incarceration (May 26, 2011). She has accepted responsibility. Her co-conspirators received much lower sentences.”
Prosecutors said Baker conspired with a number of dealers and users to distribute powerful painkillers from 2006 to 2010. U.S. Attorney Dana Washington said Baker possessed about 12,000 doses of oxycodone, 10,000 doses of hydrocodone and 29,000 doses of Xanax. Documents filed with the court reveal Baker distributed the drugs to a relative and several of that relative's high school friends, sometimes doing business from the bedroom of her home, which she called her office. Baker obtained the prescription drugs through what’s known as “doctor shopping,” or getting prescriptions from multiple physicians and other sources in Catawba County. Gebre-Egziabher said Baker needed the drugs for her lupus and fibromyalgia.
Baker was indicted by a federal grand jury in May 2011 on charges of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, three counts of distribution and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, and three counts maintaining a place for the purposes of distributing a controlled substances. Baker could have faced up to 100 years in prison if convicted on all charges. On Jan. 5, 2012, she pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy as part of a plea deal. The other five counts were dismissed Monday.
Baker’s 74-year-old father, Marshall Fairchild of Granite Falls, attended Monday’s sentencing. He spoke with his daughter as recently as Friday, when she was incarcerated in the Caldwell County Detention Center.
“She said she’s a little nervous (about the sentencing)," Fairchild said before Monday's hearing. “She talked about me, and how glad she was to see me.”
Fairchild said he hoped the judge would send her to a federal prison close to home, and her attorney asked that she be placed at the federal prison camp in Alderson, W.Va.
Hickory Police Capt. Thurman Whisnant, one of many law enforcement officials involved in both the murder and drug investigation, said the sentence was the end of a long chapter in the now three-year old case.
“The drug charges came out as a result of the murder investigation,” Whisnant said. “We’ve done an exhausting and thorough investigation. We’re glad to see this come to an end.”
Baker’s attorney can appeal the sentence withing 14 days.