Zahra Baker's mom found her too late

Charlotte ObserverSeptember 20, 2011 

While some think Elisa Baker's sentence is too short for killing her stepdaughter Zahra Baker, the 10-year-old's biological mother said she's satisfied knowing Baker is going to prison.

Emily Dietrich told Observer news partner WCNC-TV that she feared her daughter's killer would be found not guilty and go free.

Elisa Baker, 43, was sentenced to between 15 and 18 years in prison after pleading guilty Thursday to second-degree murder.

Dietrich flew from Australia to North Carolina for Thursday's hearing, she said, because someone needed to represent Zahra. She said she also wanted to confront Baker.

"I mainly wanted her to see me, and for her to see the pain that she's caused on my face and on my mother's face," she told WCNC's Diana Rugg. "And everyone says how much (Zahra) looks like me. I wanted her to look at me and know that Zahra was my daughter and she did take that away."

This was Dietrich's second trip to Hickory. Her first visit, in November, was after Zahra's remains were discovered scattered across Caldwell County.

Her statement in court was perhaps the most dramatic moment in the hearing. Dietrich wept as she talked about the tragedy ripping apart her family and the "pure evil" of Baker's actions.

Dietrich said she was 19 when Zahra was born. She was engaged to Zahra's father, Adam Baker. She told WCNC she gave up custody of Zahra because she was suffering from severe postpartum depression.

"I didn't want to hate my child," she said. "I didn't want to be that news story where you hear a mother has drowned her child, or couldn't stop them crying so they smothered them. I didn't want to be that mother."

She felt giving custody to Adam Baker was the best thing for Zahra.

"I didn't do it because I didn't love her," she said. "I did it because I did love her," she said.

Adam Baker was never charged in connection with Zahra's death. Elisa Baker claimed she and her husband worked together to dump Zahra's dismembered body. His cellphone records, however, did not place him at the dump sites, while Elisa Baker's cellphone records did place her there.

Dietrich said she still carries a lot of resentment toward Adam Baker.

He told police he hadn't seen his daughter for weeks before she was reported missing. Police testified that Adam Baker told them, "I've spent more time smoking marijuana than with my daughter."

"There's a big difference between being not guilty and being innocent," Dietrich said. "And I don't think he is innocent of what happened."

Dietrich said she later tried to find her daughter. She looked for years, she said, never thinking that Zahra could be living in the United States.

Then one day she got an email containing photos of Zahra holding a school award from Granite Falls Elementary School.

"We were so excited we couldn't believe it. That after this long ... and in America? That's the last place we were looking."

Just days later, Dietrich said she got a text message from a friend who helped her find Zahra. The friend said to search for Zahra's name online. The friend didn't say why.

Dietrich learned that Zahra had went missing just two weeks earlier.

"She was already gone," Dietrich said. "The day we found her, she was already gone."

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