Cynthia Baker's fate is now in the hands of a McLean County jury.
Baker's case went to the jury Monday afternoon after about an hour of closing arguments from prosecutor Erika Reynolds and defense attorney Todd Ringel. The jury deliberated for about two hours before stopping for the evening at around 6:30 p.m. They've apparently reached verdicts on some but not all counts and will return to deliberations Tuesday morning.
Baker, of Normal, is accused of chronically abusing and ultimately killing her boyfriend's 8-year-old daughter, Rica Rountree. Baker was arrested in April.
"She's 100% guilty of the domestic battery charges against her," Ringel said, acknowledging the home videos that show Baker abusing Rica. "I'm her attorney and I'm telling you that."
But Ringel stressed that the videos did not show the kick that caused the internal injuries that slowly killed Rica. (Baker's own daughter testified that she saw the kick happen. Jurors asked for the transcript of her testimony during deliberations late Monday.)
"There are no murderers in this courtroom," Ringel said.
Reynolds' closing argument and rebuttal ended with jurors again seeing Rica's autopsy photos. They show dozens of injuries on the girl's body.
"Rica's body tells you what happened to her," Reynolds said.
Earlier Monday, the defense rested its case following brief testimony from three witnesses. Baker chose not to testify, and her boyfriend Richard Rountree was not called as a witness.
The defense decision to end its case came after Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Koll told the judge Rountree provided authorities a letter Monday morning sent by Baker to Rountree over the weekend, urging him to “take the blame and lie” during his testimony.
Rountree was questioned about the letter by McLean County Sheriff’s Department investigators as the trial was underway Monday.
Koll told Judge Casey Costigan the state planned to question Baker and her boyfriend about the letter during their testimony. That testimony never happened.
The defense also did not call the victim’s mother, Ann Simmons. Ringel asked Friday that Simmons be brought to the Law and Justice Center from the Decatur Correctional Center, where she is serving time in connection with forgery and DUI cases.
Defense witnesses Monday included Matthew Sharp, Rica’s second grade teacher at Sheridan Elementary School. He described her as “active, bubbly, smart and a hard worker.”
Smart said he saw Rica with a swollen lip in April 2018 and noted she went to see the school nurse 23 times that year. He said he was not concerned about the number of nurse visits.
Angela Brown, a teacher's assistant who knew Rica for the 12 days she attended Prairieland Elementary School before her death, testified she noticed differences between Rica and Baker’s 6-year-old daughter who also attended the school.
Rica’s hair was “unkept, not done,” said Brown. The victim also appeared tired and walked slowly, she said.
The trial was delayed about an hour by the late arrival of a juror. A male alternate was seated on the panel now comprised of 8 women and 4 men.
On Friday, the state closed its case with 30 minutes of disturbing video in which Baker is seen physically abusing the girl. The videos were found by police on the cell phones of Baker and the girl’s father.
Recorded by Baker over five months in 2018, the videos show the child being forced to hold canned goods in her outstretched arms. Baker is seen striking the child several times.
During three days of their case, prosecutors called 19 witnesses, including two children who testified about the abuse they allegedly witnessed of the girl.
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