Zahra's stepmother due in court

Zahra Baker's stepmother is expected in Charlotte today to make her first court appearance on federal drug trafficking charges.

Elisa Baker, who is also charged with murder in the death of her 10-year-old stepdaughter, has been jailed in Catawba County jail since October.

A federal drug conviction could expose Baker, 43, to harsher punishment in state court if she is convicted on the second-degree murder charge. Zahra's death has drawn widespread outrage and prompted an unprecedented investigation in her hometown of Hickory.

It's unclear whether Elisa Baker will have to remain jailed in Charlotte until the drug charges are resolved.

Each of the seven drug charges she faces carries a maximum of 20 years in prison. Second-degree murder is punishable by between eight years and 30 years in prison, depending on a defendant's criminal record.

Baker, who has a minor record, has denied wrongdoing in connection with Zahra's death. She has accused her husband of dismembering the girl's body after she died from an illness. Adam Baker has not been charged in his daughter's death.

An autopsy concluded that Zahra died from "undetermined homicidal violence."

The federal indictment alleges that Baker conspired with others to distribute and possess with intent to distribute the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone, and the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam. She's accused of distributing the drugs from homes in Granite Falls, Hudson and Hickory, where she lived with Zahra and Adam Baker.

Family and friends have said it was in those homes where Zahra, who was hearing-impaired and had lost part of her leg to cancer, was sometimes locked up alone for hours and sometimes abused.