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Zahra Baker's stepmother appears in federal court

Zahra Baker's stepmother was in Charlotte this morning for her first court appearance on federal drug trafficking charges.

Elisa Baker, 43, sat quietly in a pink jail jumpsuit as Magistrate Judge David Keesler explained her rights and read the charges from the federal indictment.

It alleges that Baker, who is also charged with second-degree murder in the death of her 10-year-old stepdaughter, possessed and distributed 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 husband Adam Baker.

"These are the charges brought against you," Keesler told Baker.

"Yes," Elisa Baker said when he asked if she understood the charges.

Baker has been jailed in Catawba County jail since October. Federal prosecutors said it's now up to U.S. Marshal to determine where Baker, who is now considered in federal custody, will remain in Mecklenburg until the drug charges are resolved.

A federal drug conviction could expose her to harsher punishment in state court if she is convicted on the second-degree murder charge.

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.

Federal prosecutor Dana Washington said the federal case should not interfere with the timing of state's murder case against her.

"Technically, we can proceed on the same track," he said.

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