After almost two years of waiting, Ann Simmons delivered a message Thursday to the woman who killed her daughter, 8-year-old Rica Rountree.
“You beat and killed my daughter. Please accept that and let it go because I have,” said Simmons, reading a victim impact statement at the sentencing hearing for Cynthia Baker.
In handing down a life sentence, Judge Casey Costigan referred to Baker's discipline of the child as “pure evil” and “demented.”
The judge admitted the evidence in Baker's trial was the most distressing he's witnessed.
Baker's sentencing came on the one-year anniversary of her murder conviction for causing the internal injuries that killed the child, who was the daughter Richard Rountree, Baker’s former boyfriend. Richard Rountree is serving eight years for child endangerment for allowing the abuse that led to the child’s death.
Unlike most child death cases where prosecutors rely on medical evidence to tell story of the victim’s abuse, jurors in the Baker case were shown videos recorded by Baker and Rountree of the harsh punishments they routinely used on the girl.
Prosecutor Erika Reynolds called Baker's cellphone videos “her own pornography.”
Several jurors became emotional as they sat in the darkened courtroom watching videos of the frail child, standing naked and wet, as she was forced to hold canned food. Another video showed Rica crying and running from Baker as the woman ordered her into a bedroom where beatings had previously taken place.
Reynolds referred to Baker as “a monster" for allowing other children in the family to taunt Rica.
Richard Rountree participated in the abuse, prosecutors argued. At the trial, they displayed video of Rountree ordering Rica to stand on her head while he talked with Baker on the phone about the punishment.
The video was collected by Normal Police during their investigation into Rica’s death The child was taken to the hospital after she was found unresponsive at home. The state told jurors Baker kicked the child in the days before the girl was hospitalized with life-threatening internal injuries.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Scott Denton testified that Rica had 67 marks on her body--bruises, and scars from head to toe--when she died. The marks, he said, were the result of ongoing physical abuse.
Rica's body, said Reynolds “was a crime scene,”
In her statement to the court. Baker apologized to Simmons and claimed to love Rica.
“I did not kill Rica,” said Baker.
Baker opted not to testify at her trial, but at an Oct. 9 hearing on her motion for a new trial, she took the witness stand and pointed to her former boyfriend as the likely source of the fatal blows to Rica. Baker contends her previous lawyer Todd Ringel did not call witnesses at her trial who saw Rountree hit his daughter.
Costigan denied the motion for a new trial.
Defense lawyer Phil Finegan asked for a sentence other than a natural life term. He presented 11 letters from Baker's family and friends who consider her loving and caring.
After the hearing, Reynolds and prosecutor Mary Koll said they were pleased with the sentence.
“I don’t think there was a better candidate for a life sentence,” said Reynolds.
Koll said she hopes Rica's case will bring changes in how the Department of Children and Family Services handle abuse investigations. Rica's explanation for her injuries were accepted by DCFS workers who did not follow up.
Ann Simmons said she will continue her work to combat child abuse.
“I just want it to stop,” she said.
Editor's note: The headline has been changed to clarify the familial relationship between Rica Rountree and Cynthia Baker.
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