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Jurors Brought To Tears In Baker Murder Trial

Cynthia Baker walks into court
David Proeber
The Pantagraph (Pool)
Cynthia Baker of Normal is charged with causing the internal injuries that killed Rica Rountree, 8, in January.

The torment and torture that marked Rica Rountree’s life in the months before death in January were played Friday for a jury considering murder charges against Cynthia Baker, the Normal woman depicted in 30 minutes of video that brought some jurors to tears.

Prosecutors played a series of videos recovered from Baker’s cellphone after her arrest on murder charges in the death of the 8-year-old. 

Rica and her doll
Credit Family Photo
Rica Rountree

One of the videos played in a darkened courtroom featured the child’s naked silhouette facing away from a cellphone camera set up by Baker to capture the girl’s small, shivering frame, her arms outstretched as she is forced to hold large cans out to her side. Baker returns twice to taunt the child and order her to raise her arms higher. The second time, the child cries out in pain after Baker hits her buttocks.

Jurors passed a box of tissues down the row as at least two female jurors cried during the video footage.

In another video, Rountree is seen standing behind a chair as Baker orders her to go to Baker’s bedroom.  The girl cries and runs away from Baker who yells profanities and threatens to call the girl’s father Richard Rountree.

The final video recorded in September 2018 provides a window into the widespread circle of abuse of Rica in the household.

Family members, including Richland Rountree and Baker’s two daughters, walk past the girl multiple times as she is forced to stand in a hallway holding cans. The child twice suffers blows as Baker knees her in the back and bangs her head against the wall.  Baker’s teenage daughter taunts Rica at one point, asking her “is it hard to keep your arms up?”  

Prosecutors also showed jurors a series of text messages exchanged in July, August and September 2018 between Baker and her boyfriend in which the couple lamented the girl’s presence in their home. 

Two photos contained in a text message found on Richard Rountree’s cellphone seem to support the state’s claim that he also participated in the severe discipline of his daughter.  In the September photos Richard Rountree sent to Baker, he is seen ordering the girl to stand on her head and lay on the floor while supporting herself on one arm. The plan was for her to remain in the uncomfortable positions for hours, according to the messages.

The couple also discuss injuries the child has suffered and how they will explain them to staff at her school.

“I told Rica to say she was playing in the dark and hit her eye so she doesn’t sound psycho,” Baker said in a Sept. 5, 2018 text.

The profanity-laced exchanges include Richard Rountree’s declarations that “honestly, at this point, I feel it’s time for her to leave.”

“I love you but I really hate your (expletive) daughter. I swear if she was my daughter I would strangle her,” Baker texted to her boyfriend.

The videos and texts were the final evidence in the state’s case.

On Monday, Rica Rountree’s mother Ann Simmons is expected to be called as one of the first defense witnesses. She is currently incarcerated in the Decatur Correctional Center where she is serving the final weeks of a 2 ½ year sentence related to a McLean County aggravated drunken driving case. Simmons’ daughter died 12 days after Simmons was sentenced.

'This is child abuse'

The deep bruises and scars that covered Rica Rountree’s body told a story of ongoing child abuse, a forensic pathologist testified Friday. 

Dr. Scott Denton detailed the injuries depicted in 75 photos taken during an autopsy performed Feb. 2 in Bloomington, about a week after a Peoria County autopsy. McLean County authorities retrieved the child’s body from a Galesburg funeral home ahead of cremation for a second, more extensive  autopsy, said Denton. 

Severe bruising on the child’s abdomen were linked to the tears in her intestines that caused fatal peritonitis, said Denton.

“The bottom line is this is child abuse,” said Denton.

In addition to his medical exam of the victim, Denton acknowledged he viewed three videos police collected from Baker’s phone. The recordings expected to be played during the trial show the child being abused, according to prosecutors. 

More than 50 scars and marks were logged by the doctor.  It’s likely many of the marks came at the hands of another person, said Denton.

“Someone else did this to her,” Denton said of marks on the girl’s ankle.

Pinching, grabbing and punching were likely endured by Rica, along with loss of a portion of her hair.

“Multiple blows from a belt or cord” likely caused the bruising on the girl’s back, the doctor testified. 

The jury of nine women and three men took notes as the graphic photos were displayed on a large screen in the courtroom.

Baker occasionally looked at the photos from her chair located close to the screen. 

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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.
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