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A North Carolina woman will spend up to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty Thursday to murdering her disabled 10-year-old stepdaughter, nearly a year after freckle-faced Zahra Baker's disappearance and death shocked communities here and in her native Australia.

Elisa Baker, 43, entered the courtroom wearing a hot-pink jail jumpsuit and handcuffs. She sat between two defense attorneys and teared up before pleading guilty to second-degree murder, with aggravating factors that included desecrating the body of Zahra Baker, who used a prosthetic leg and hearing aids after a struggle with bone cancer.

Elisa Baker also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in the case, and to charges unrelated to Zahra's death, including obtaining property by false pretenses, financial identity fraud and bigamy.

Adam Baker, Zahra's father and Elisa's husband, was present in the courtroom in Newton, about 60 miles northwest of Charlotte. Adam Baker, who came to the U.S. with his daughter after meeting Elisa online, faces multiple criminal charges of his own, although none are related to his daughter's death.

Zahra's biological mother, Emily Dietrich, flew in from Australia for the hearing. She cried when she heard details of her daughter's gruesome death.

Elisa Baker's guilty plea comes almost a year after Zahra was reported missing from her home in Hickory. Initially, she and Adam told police they believed their daughter had been kidnapped, but that story quickly unraveled as police arrested Elisa and charged her with forging a ransom note.


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