Killer's Sister Convicted Of Witness Harassment In Rica Rountree Case
The sister of convicted murderer Cynthia Baker was convicted herself Tuesday of harassing a witness during Baker’s 2019 trial in the death of 8-year-old Rica Rountree.
Victoria Baker, 32, of Varna, was charged with harassing Rica’s father, Richard Rountree, by acting as a courier for a letter written by Cynthia Baker and delivering it to him ahead of his anticipated testimony at her murder trial in November 2019.
Cynthia Baker and Richard Rountree lived together in Normal when Rica suffered chronic physical abuse leading to the internal injuries that killed her in January 2019. Cynthia Baker was charged with murder three months later.
Victoria Baker is eligible for 3 to 5 years in prison when she is sentenced Nov. 30. She also could receive probation.
At her trial on the felony harassment charges, Victoria Baker testified Tuesday that she knew it was wrong to follow her sister’s directions to pick up a letter from an inmate on work release.
In her letter to her boyfriend, Cynthia Baker threatened suicide and pleaded with him to “come up with something to get me out of here.”
“They’re gonna give me a life sentence for something I didn’t do,” Baker wrote. She asked her boyfriend to admit to kicking and punching Rica, abuse she claimed he inflicted on the child but occurred outside the timeframe doctors believed Rica received the blows to her abdomen that slowly killed her.
Baker is serving a life sentence for murder, and Rountree pleaded guilty to child endangerment in February 2020, for which he received an eight-year sentence.
Jurors in the two-day trial watched a surveillance video of Richard Rountree meeting Victoria Baker in the parking lot of a Normal trucking firm where he worked. Baker testified she and Rountree passed the letter back and forth during their hourlong meeting in her car.
Baker said Rountree repeatedly asked her, “What should I do?” Rountree, whom Baker described as “like a brother to me,” seemed “different, quiet” after reading the note.
Richard Rountree was escorted to court Monday by the Department of Corrections to testify, reluctantly, he admitted. Rountree said he was “puzzled and shocked that I even received the letter.”
Rountree said his first reaction to the letter was “you want me to get on the stand and lie.”
The same day the letter was delivered to him, Rountree received a subpoena to testify at the murder trial. Rountree shared the letter with his godmother Rhonda Johnson, who works as a DCFS investigator in northern Illinois. She counseled him to turn the letter over the authorities, according to his testimony. Lawyers for Cynthia Baker opted not to call Rountree to testify after prosecutors disclosed the letter in court.
Victoria Baker’s defense lawyer, Stephanie Wong, called the harassment charges “an abuse of power” by the state. The state has “zero evidence of any scheme” between the Baker sisters to threaten Rountree or attempt to influence his testimony at the murder trial, Wong told jurors in closing remarks.
“This is a scheme only hatched by Cindy,” said Wong.
Prosecutor Mary Koll argued that the sisters shared legal accountability for Cindy Baker’s efforts to persuade her boyfriend to take the blame for Rica’s death.
“Cindy was the brains of this operation but she had no legs. She was stuck in jail,” said Koll. Victoria Baker “was willing to serve as Cindy’s accomplice.”
Richard Rountree, who failed to protect his daughter from ongoing abuse, is not a sympathetic victim in the harassment case, Koll acknowledged. She asked jurors to consider another victim in the alleged attempt to prevent jurors in the murder case from knowing the truth behind Rica’s death.
“The victim of this crime is the criminal justice system,” said Koll.