Image: Zahra Baker
James Nix  /  Independent Tribune via AP file
Zahra Baker, as seen in May 2010 at age 10, was found slain.
msnbc.com
updated 12/4/2010 12:19:49 AM ET 2010-12-04T05:19:49

The stepmother of slain 10-year-old Zahra Baker has struck a deal sparing her from the death penalty or life in prison if she is ever convicted in the girl's disappearance, North Carolina media reported Friday.

Prosecutors agreed to the deal with Elisa Baker in return for her help with the murder investigation, they said.

Soon after the deal was made, the girl's dismembered remains and prosthetic leg were found by search teams in various locations outside Hickory, N.C., where Zahra lived with her father, Adam Baker, and stepmother, who is believed to have led police to Zahra's remains.

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Zahra Baker was born in Wagga Wagga, Australia, but moved to the United States with her father. Australian media are closely following developments in the case.

Zahra was reported missing on Oct. 9 and Elisa Baker was arrested a day later. She has been held in a North Carolina jail since on an obstruction of justice charge related to a fake ransom note and charges unrelated to Zahra's disappearance.

Hickory police have not charged anyone in connection with Zahra's death.

Zahra's father, Adam Baker, has denied involvement in his daughter's death. He faces unrelated charges of assault with a deadly weapon, failure to return rental property, communicating threats and writing worthless checks.

Elisa Baker, according to search warrants recently unveiled in the case, claims her husband help get rid of Zahra's remains.

Under a written deal first reported by North Carolina TV station WSOC, prosecutors agreed not to charge Elisa Baker with first-degree murder. If convicted, she would not face the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

The agreement allows for the District Attorney's Office to charge Elisa Baker with second-degree murder, a class B2 felony and punishable by seven years and 10 months to 32 years and eight months in prison, the Hickory Daily Record said.

Elisa Baker's attorney, Lisa Dubs, reportedly worked out the deal with prosecutors. Dubs would not confirm making the deal but did tell local media she has been a part of her client's cooperation with law enforcement.

Dubs also said she would continue representing Elisa Baker even though the Capitol Defender's Office terminated her status of provisional counsel since Baker has not been charged with murder.

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News of the prosecution deal outraged some local residents, who cited the life Zahra, who had her leg amputated following bone cancer, was forced to endure.

"This child suffered from cancer. I don't think that a second-degree murder charge is justice," Sherrie Rowell-Monnell, who visited a memorial dedicated to Zahra, told the Hickory Record newspaper.

"This child's body was dismembered and put in awful places. I think if I had a decision, it would be first-degree murder and the death penalty."

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