Opening statements are set for Wednesday in the murder trial of Cynthia Baker of Normal, though several of the charges against her were dismissed just before jury selection began.
Baker remains charged with murder, aggravated battery, and child endangerment in connection with the death of Rica Rountree, 8, in January. Baker is accused of chronically abusing Rica—her boyfriend’s daughter—and kicking her in the stomach, which caused internal injuries that killed her. Baker’s attorneys say she is innocent.
Just before jury selection began Tuesday, prosecutors chose to drop nine of the criminal counts against Baker. Still, if convicted of murder, Baker could face life in prison.
Prosecutors on Tuesday asked potential jurors about whether they’ve had any history with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which has faced criticism for its handling of high-profile death cases like Rica’s. Jurors were asked if they’ve ever been accused of child abuse, or if they have strong feelings about the healthcare industry and alternative medicines.
One prospective juror who said she heard about the story through the media—and formed an opinion about Baker’s guilt—was dismissed.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks. It could feature dozens of witnesses. Judge Casey Costigan warned jurors that they are likely to hear graphic testimony, and prosecutors plan to show autopsy photos that reveal Rica’s injuries. (A doctor’s autopsy report noted 67 marks from head to toe.)
WGLT documented Rica’s life and death in a story published in October, showing Baker and Rica’s father were investigated by DCFS at least three times for child abuse before Rica’s death. Those abuse allegations were determined to be “unfounded.”
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