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Trial Delayed As Prosecutors Probe Alternate Theory Of Girl's Death

Cynthia and Rica
Police and Family Photos
Cynthia Baker is charged with murder in connection with the death of Rica Rountree, 8, who died in January 2019.

The murder trial for a Normal woman accused of killing an 8-year-old girl has been delayed as prosecutors explore the defense’s alternative theory for how the child died.

Cynthia Baker’s murder trial was set to begin Tuesday. She’s accused of fatally kicking her boyfriend’s daughter, Rica Rountree, in the stomach, leading to massive internal injuries that eventually killed her. Rica’s autopsy also showed multiple scars indicating chronic child abuse.

Last week, Baker’s attorneys disclosed a possible alternative explanation for how Rica was injured. Rica’s father recently told the defense about an incident on a Chicago area interstate in January—weeks before Rica died – when he reportedly slammed on the brakes in a construction zone. Baker’s attorneys say a surgeon who worked on Rica told detectives soon after her death that it was possible jerking forward suddenly while restrained by a seat belt could have caused the type of bowel “whiplash” and peritonitis that ultimately killed the girl.

Prosecutor Erika Reynolds said in court Wednesday that her office needs more time to investigate the claim. That will involve interviewing multiple witnesses, obtaining cell phone records, and examining the vehicle’s “black box” to confirm what happened.

Reynolds said authorities previously interviewed several people who could not recall any car accident involving Rica, though some may not consider slamming-on-the-brakes as an accident.

Judge Casey Costigan granted the prosecution’s request to delay the trial until Nov. 12. It’s expected to last up to two weeks.

Baker’s attorney, Todd Ringel, objected to the delay but said it was “responsible and commendable” of prosecutors to find out what happened.

"An innocent person sits in jail awaiting trial on murder charges,” Ringel said. “We are ready for trial. We are confident our client is not guilty, and know a jury will agree with us.”

WGLT documented Rica’s death in a story published Monday, showing Baker and Rica’s father were investigated at least three times for child abuse before Rica’s death. Those abuse allegations were determined to be “unfounded.”

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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