Drug charges added against Elisa Baker

A federal grand jury indicted Elisa Baker on drug trafficking charges Wednesday, painting an even grimmer picture of the conditions in which her 10-year-old stepdaughter, Zahra, lived and died.

The new charges include possession and distribution of prescription drugs over more than four years, from at least May 2006 to October 2010. The indictment says Baker distributed a mixture that contained painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone, and the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam.

Baker distributed the drugs from the homes in Granite Falls, Hudson and Hickory, the indictment says, where she lived with Zahra and her husband, Adam. Family and friends have said it was in those homes where Zahra was sometimes locked up alone for hours and sometimes abused.

Zahra Baker's story of surviving cancer and a difficult home life gained widespread attention after she disappeared last October and her dismembered body was later discovered in several locations in Caldwell County.

Elisa Baker, 43, has been charged with second-degree murder. She has denied wrongdoing and accuses her husband of dismembering the girl's body after she died from an illness. Adam Baker has not been charged in connection with his daughter's death.

Zahra was hearing-impaired and lost part of a leg to cancer. Family members have said they repeatedly reported suspected abuse to social workers.

The Department of Social Services has confirmed it had investigated abuse allegations against Elisa Baker as far back as 1999. The alleged abuse involved Zahra as well as Elisa Baker's biological children. Baker's previous attorney confirmed investigations were conducted but said the agency had not substantiated the claims.

The drug indictment brings the first federal charges against Elisa Baker, who also faces more than 20 additional charges - including bad checks and communicating threats - unrelated to Zahra's death.

If convicted on the drug charges, Baker could face up to 20 years in prison for each separate charge. Second-degree murder is punishable by between eight and 30 years.

Elisa Baker remains in the Catawba County jail.