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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Elisa Baker's Bond Increased: Zahra Baker's Body Still Missing

Judge Raises Bond For Elisa Baker

A judge increased bond for Elisa Baker on Wednesday after a hearing that included testimony from Baker’s biological daughter.

Her voice was hard to hear, but her words were powerful.

"If she was to get out I'd have to leave the state,” Amber Fairchild testified, speaking about her mother, Elisa Baker.

The setting was Baker's bond hearing on a felony obstruction of justice charge.

Prosecutors want Baker kept in jail.

Her attorney asked the judge to lower the bond, saying that even if Baker did obstruct justice, she'd probably only get probation as a punishment.

Police say Baker wrote a bogus ransom note the day Baker reported 10-year-old Zahra Baker missing from the family's home in Hickory.

Police think Zahra has been murdered. However, they haven’t found her body or charged anyone with murder.

"Feigning this kidnapping, starting this investigation is certainly enough for a jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt of intent to deceive and defraud,” said prosecutor Eric Bellas.

The bond hearing quickly became an evidentiary hearing.

It included Fairchild testifying about what she says Baker told her the day Baker was arrested for outstanding warrants, unrelated to Zahra's disappearance.

"She said she wished she could leave the state,” Fairchild said.

Fairchild also says that Baker was in contact with a man in London, England. She says her mother met him online and he’s sent Baker a lot of money.

"Over $10,000,” Fairchild said.

Baker's attorney Scott Reilly says he was hoping for fairness, not a bond hearing becoming an evidentiary hearing.

"Never happens,” Reilly said.
This is why he says it did.

"Because there are cameras and because this case is getting a lot of attention. No other reason,” Reilly said.

If Baker does make bond, which is now $65,000, she will have to wear an electronic ankle monitoring bracelet.

Excerpts Of Two 911 Calls From The Baker Household

Hickory Police released a 911 call from Elisa Baker reporting a fire at the family home and a later recording from Adam Baker reporting 10-year-old Zahra missing. Here are excerpts from those calls:

Call from Elisa Baker, Oct. 9, about 5 a.m.

Operator: 911 what’s the address of your emergency?

Elisa Baker: My husband works for a tree maintenance company and our backyard’s on fire.

Operator: Your what’s on fire?

Elisa Baker: The backyard. We’ve got big mulch piles and wood piles and firewood and stuff.

Operator: OK. What’s your address ma’am?

Elisa Baker: It’s 21 21 Avenue northwest Hickory.

Operator: We’ll get them (firefighters) out there ma’am.

Call from Adam Baker, Oct. 9, 1:58 p.m.

Operator: Hickory police, where is your emergency?

Adam Baker: Yeah, my daughter is missing.

Operator: What is your address?

Adam Baker: - - 21st Avenue NW. The police were out here last night over a fire and ransom note for my boss’s daughter. I got up a little while ago and it appears they took my daughter instead of my boss’s daughter.

Operator: OK, how old is your daughter?

Adam Baker: She’s 10. She’s handicapped. She has a prosthetic leg.

Operator: How long has she been missing?

Adam Baker: We checked in there (her bedroom) last night about 2:30 (a.m. Saturday, Oct. 9) and she was there. And all this happened last night about 5 o’clock.

Adam Baker: I don’t know if they set a fire in the yard to distract us to go out and they snuck in the door. I don’t know.

Operator: I’m not familiar with what happened last night. What happened last night?

Adam Baker: Last night my dog woke me up and I had a fire in the backyard. And somebody had poured gas in my company vehicle that I drive for work.

Adam Baker: They left a ransom note on the company vehicle to my boss saying they had his daughter and his son was next.

Adam Baker: It appears they may have taken my daughter instead of his daughter. …

Operator: So no one has seen your daughter since 2:30 this morning?

Adam Baker: No, like I said, we had all that drama last night. And me and my wife went back to bed. And my daughter is, I think, coming into puberty. So she’s hitting that brooding stage (chuckles). So we only see her when she wants something. That’s about it.

Operator: And did you say she was handicapped?

Adam Baker: Yes, ma’am. She has an above-the-knee amputation.

Operator: She has one leg that is partially amputated?

Adam Baker: Yeah. She has a prosthetic leg that apparently they’ve taken with her. …

Adam Baker: We had an officer here last night. And (my boss) ran through who he thought it might be, like an ex-employee.

Operator: OK, we’re getting the police on the way out there.

Operator: If you find out anything at all in the meantime, before we get the officer out there, call me back. That would help us toward finding your daughter.

Adam Baker: Thank you ma’am.

N.C. Authorities At Caldwell Landfill For Zahra Baker Clues

Calling her a "significant flight risk" and alluding to the "particularly disturbing allegations" against her, a judge on Wednesday increased the bond for Elisa Baker, who is accused of writing a phony ransom note concerning the disappearance of her stepdaughter, Zahra.

Meanwhile, a team of local, state and federal authorities is searching at a Caldwell County landfill for possible clues in the disappearance of 10-year-old Zahra Baker of Hickory, according to a police report.

Hickory police said their agents have joined those from the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation and the FBI in searching for what authorities called "a piece of evidence."

The search is under way at the Foothills Environmental Landfill, on Cheraw Road in Lenoir.

Authorities are not permitting the media near the search site, but they said they will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. today.

Judge Robert A. Mullinax raised Baker's bond from $50,000 to $65,000 at this morning's hearing in the Catawba County Courthouse in Newton. Baker faces a probable cause hearing Nov. 3.

During the hearing, Baker's grown daughter, Morgan Fairchild, told the judge she would fear for her safety if her mother were released.

"If she gets out, I would have to leave the state," she said.

Typically, defendants must pay a bail bondsman 10 to 15 percent of the bond set by the court, in order to get out of jail. The bondsman then guarantees to pay the court the full bond if the defendant fails to show up for trial.

That means Elisa Baker would have to come up with between $6,500 and $9,750.

Her attorney, Scott Reilly, said after the hearing that he doubts she will be able to raise that money -- or enough to cover the $30,000 bond set for her in Burke County, where she faces charges for allegedly writing bad checks.

Reilly said he and his client are looking for consistency and fairness.

"We haven't seen the first piece of evidence," he said after the hearing.

There was one other interesting development at the hearing this morning. Details were released that Elisa Baker has received more than $10,000 from a man in London, including money received as recently as the past week. The man was referred to as "Carlisle Fullman" during today's bond hearing.

It's unclear what relationship, if any, the two have. Baker met her husband, Zahra's father Adam, as part of an online relationship in Australia.

These latest developments follow a report by CNN that authorities have asked Zahra Baker's family members in Australia for medical information that might help them find out what happened to the girl. Hickory police have said they believe Zahra is dead.

Among the evidence being sought, CNN reported, is information about the prosthetic leg that Zahra used. She lost a leg to cancer while living in Australia.

Hickory police on Tuesday released recordings of two emergency calls made from Zahra Baker’s home the day the 10-year-old girl was reported missing.

The calls shed new light on what Zahra’s parents claim happened Oct. 9, and how an early-morning fire and a phony ransom note might have been linked to her disappearance.

The Bakers’ description of events suggests that Zahra may have been kidnapped while her father and stepmother were dealing with a fire in the back yard of their Hickory house. The Bakers also reported that kidnappers might have taken Zahra by mistake in their attempt to actually abduct the daughter of Baker’s boss and landlord, Mark Coffey.

“I don’t know if they set a fire in the yard to distract us to go out, and they snuck in the door,” Baker said of possible kidnappers in his 911 call.

“It appears they may have taken my daughter instead of his daughter.”

The release of the recordings came on the 10th day of the search for the little girl with freckles who was hearing impaired and lost part of one leg to bone cancer. The case has drawn international attention. Newspapers in Australia where Zahra was born have been publishing daily updates.

Zahra’s stepmother, Elisa Baker, has been charged with felony obstruction of justice and is now in jail. She was arrested after police say she admitted writing the phony ransom note, which they say was intended to throw off the investigation into Zahra’s disappearance.

Investigators continue to seek the public’s help in piecing together a timeline of events surrounding the girl’s disappearance. The last person outside Zahra’s family whom police can confirm saw the girl alive was an employee at a Hickory furniture store, who reported seeing Zahra shopping with her stepmother on Sept. 25.

Zahra wasn’t reported missing until two weeks later.

The first 911 call from the Bakers came around 5:30 a.m. that Saturday, when Elisa Baker sounded anxious as she asked for help.

“Our back yard is on fire,” she told dispatchers. “…We have mulch piles and wood piles because we sell firewood and stuff.”

Firefighters and police responded, and while they were there found a handwritten ransom note on the windshield of the Bakers’ SUV parked at the house. The note was addressed to “Mr. Coffey” and said kidnappers had his daughter and wanted $1 million.

When police checked, they found Coffey’s family was unharmed.

The second 911 call came from Zahra’s father at 1:58 p.m. that same day.

He was polite and calm as he spoke to the dispatcher.

“Hickory police, where is your emergency?”

“Yeah, my daughter is missing,” said Adam Baker, 33.

“What is your address?”

“21st Avenue Northwest. The police were out here last night over a fire and ransom note for my boss’s daughter. I got up a little while ago, and it appears they took my daughter instead of my boss’s daughter.”

He explained how someone had poured gasoline on a company vehicle that he parked at his house, and that it might have been a diversion so kidnappers could enter his home.

Adam Baker told the dispatcher that maybe the kidnappers were confused.

“I guess they thought he (Coffey) lives in this house” Baker said.

Coffey owns the house, rented by the Bakers. Adam Baker worked for Coffey at a tree-trimming business that has a storage lot in Burke County – a site authorities have repeatedly searched for signs of Zahra.

Baker went on to tell the dispatcher that he last checked on his daughter about 2:30 a.m. that day – twelve hours before making his 911 call.

“We had all that drama last night,” he said. “And me and my wife went back to bed. And my daughter is, I think, coming into puberty. So she’s hitting that brooding stage (chuckles). So we only see her when she wants something.”

Adam Baker has not been charged in connection with his daughter’s disappearance.

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Sources: AP, McClatchy Newspapers, Myspace, WAFB, WCNC, Youtube, Google Maps

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