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Sister gets probation for harassing a witness connected to Rica Rountree murder trial

Cynthia Baker walks into court
David Proeber
The Pantagraph (Pool)
Cynthia Baker, above, is serving life in prison for causing the fatal internal injuries that caused Rica’s death. Her sister was sentenced to probation Tuesday.

Victoria Baker was sentenced to 30 months probation Tuesday for harassing a witness in the 2019 murder trial of her sister Cynthia Baker, who was convicted of the brutal murder of an 8-year-old girl.

Baker, 33, of Varna, was found guilty in September of harassing Richard Rountree, the father of Rica Rountree. He was a potential witness in the murder trial of his girlfriend, Cynthia Bake, who is serving life in prison for causing the fatal internal injuries that caused Rica’s death.

Judge William Yoder told Baker he was ready to send her to prison for what he called her “horrendous decision” to assist her sister. But for the state’s recommendation of probation, Baker would have received prison time, the judge told the defendant.

Cynthia Baker’s trial in the torture and beating death of Rica was “one of the most troubling murder trials that I can remember,” said Yoder. “It was the first trial in the history of McLean County where jurors had to be offered counseling after the trial.”

Yoder also ordered Victoria Baker to complete 200 hours of community service and serve 120 days in jail, a sentence that will be cut in half because of day-for-day credit.

Defense lawyer Stephanie Wong asked that the jail term be suspended and served only if Baker failed to complete the terms of probation. Wong argued that Baker cares for her ailing mother and two teenage relatives. She also is the main source of income for the family.

State’s Attorney Don Knapp acknowledged that he struggled with a sentencing recommendation for Baker, who was eligible for up to three years in prison. Her willingness to become involved in a murder trial elevated the harassment claim to a heightened level of seriousness, said the prosecutor.

The letter from Cynthia Baker asking her boyfriend to take the blame for injuries he did not cause to his daughter “cuts at the very fabric of what takes places in the courtroom every day,” said Knapp, who also noted Baker’s lack of criminal history.

In her request to suspend jail time, Wong noted Baker’s history of helping others — and the negative consequences that sometimes followed.

“Her biggest fault is she doesn’t think before she jumps in to help. This is not an evil person. Her actions may be criminal in nature, but she’s not a criminal,” said Wong.

Baker declined to make a statement to Yoder before he imposed a sentence. She was ordered to report to jail on Dec. 7.

Edith began her career as a reporter with The DeWitt County Observer, a weekly newspaper in Clinton. From 2007 to June 2019, Edith covered crime and legal issues for The Pantagraph, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Illinois. She previously worked as a correspondent for The Pantagraph covering courts and local government issues in central Illinois.