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Cynthia Baker Convicted Of Murder In B-N Girl's Death

Cynthia Baker walks into court
David Proeber
The Pantagraph (Pool)
Cynthia Baker, 43, of Normal, was arrested in April on murder charges.

UPDATED 4:35 p.m. | Cynthia Baker was convicted Tuesday of murder in the death of her boyfriend’s 8-year-old daughter who died from internal injuries prosecutors attributed to blows Baker inflicted to the girl’s stomach during ongoing and severe abuse.

Baker lowered her head and cried as the verdicts were read: guilty of murder, guilty of aggravated battery of a child, guilty of domestic battery, and guilty of child endangerment. The jury of eight women and four men deliberated about five hours over two days.

Rica and her doll
Credit Family Photo
Rica Rountree, 8, was a Unit 5 student.

Baker will be sentenced Feb. 3. She is eligible for life in prison because the jury found the murder to be heinous and with wanton cruelty.

Rica Rountree died in January of peritonitis, a condition caused by ruptures of her intestine, according to testimony from forensic pathologist Dr. Scott Denton. Baker’s own daughter testified she saw her mother kick Rica twice in the weeks before the girl’s death.

State’s Attorney Don Knapp deferred comment until a press conference Wednesday at the Normal Police Department.

"We respect the jury's verdicts, but are looking forward to an appeal," said Todd Ringel, Baker's defense attorney.

Abuse Captured On Video

The state’s evidence presented during three days of testimony last week included disturbing video of Baker and her boyfriend Richard Rountree abusing the child. Normal Police collected the videos from Baker and Rountree’s cell phones after her arrest in April.

The frail girl is depicted in the family’s apartment in Bloomington where she was forced to hold cans in her outstretched arms for prolonged periods of time. Baker banged the girl’s head against the wall and slapped her naked body during a video recorded by Baker and shared with her boyfriend.

Richard Rountree condoned Baker’s abuse of the child, according to text messages shared with jurors. The couple exchanged complaints about Rica and their mutual desire that she live somewhere else.

The abuse was so commonplace, the couple’s other children walked past Rica without notice as she was being harshly disciplined, Assistant State’s Attorney Erika Reynolds said Monday in her closing remarks to the jury.

Rica “was battered and abused in front of every kid in this house,” said Reynolds.

In his closing argument, Ringel asked jurors to consider Rica’s ability to attend school the week of her death, something he said would be unlikely if she were critically ill. The videos show Rica at the family’s Bloomington apartment from April to September 2018 and do not include any images after the family moved to a new home in Normal in December, said Ringel.

Ringel conceded the videos depicted the domestic battery of Rica described in charges but “they don’t show aggravated battery or murder.”

The defense called three witnesses during its case Monday—all staff from three schools Rica attended until her death 12 days after she was enrolled as a third grader in Prairieland Elementary School. The teacher, a school nurse and a teacher’s assistant recalled no concerns about Rica’s health. One witness noted Rica’s hair was unkept and were clothes were inferior to those worn by Baker’s daughter, then a kindergartener.

Baker and Rountree were initially listed as defense witnesses but those plans changed Monday after Rountree handed over to Normal police a letter he received from Baker during a weekend jail visit. According to Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Koll, Baker urged her boyfriend “to lie and take the blame” during his testimony. He never testified.

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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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