The woman convicted of killing an 8-year-old girl from Normal hopes to earn a new trial by claiming ineffective assistance from her lawyer, as her sister faces a new charge of witness harassment.
Cynthia Baker was convicted of murder Nov. 19 in the death of Rica Rountree, her boyfriend’s daughter. Baker, 42, is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 31. She is eligible for life in prison because the jury found the murder to be heinous and with wanton cruelty.
Baker has hired a new attorney, Phil Finegan, to represent her as she seeks a new trial based on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel during her murder trial. Baker was represented by Todd Ringel during that trial. During three days of their case, prosecutors called 19 witnesses, including two children who testified about the abuse they allegedly witnessed of the girl. Ringel rested his case following brief testimony from three witnesses.
A hearing is now set for Jan. 3. Finegan told WGLT he’s asking the court for some time to get the trial transcripts to review, so the process may take some time.
Meanwhile, Baker’s sister, Victoria Baker, has been indicted on one count of witness harassment. She’s accused of communicating directly with Rica’s father, Richard Rountree, during Baker’s murder trial in “such a manner as to produce mental anguish or emotional distress.”
The charge appears linked to a letter that Richard Rountree received a letter from Cynthia Baker during the trial, just prior to his scheduled testimony. The letter allegedly urged him to “take the blame and lie” during his testimony, prosecutors said. Rountree did not ultimately testify. Cynthia Baker was in custody when the letter was sent.
Victoria Baker, 31, lives in Varna, around 50 miles northwest of Bloomington-Normal. A warrant was issued for her arrest following the Dec. 18 indictment. It’s unclear if she’s in custody.
Richard Rountree has never been charged in the case.
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