ZAHRA Baker (10) had already been so much in her short life, but none of the challenges she met came anything close to the manner of her death.
The child, left by her birth mother to be reared by her father, overcame cancer that resulted in the amputation of her leg, and a move from her native Australia to American when he remarried.
Nobody knows what she endured at the hands of her stepmother Elisa Baker, the American woman who married her father Adam Baker three years ago. But the ordeal resulted the murder of Zahra and her dismemberment. Her remains were scatted near Hickory in North Carolina where the family lived.
Elisa Baker, who is beginning a life sentence in jail after being convicted of the child’s murder, is refusing to reveal what happened.
Zahra's father, Adam Baker, sat hunched and menacing in the court as his former wife, tearful and wearing crimson prison overalls, looked at the floor. Her lawyer spoke for her, agreeing to a deal with prosecutors that means Elisa Baker, 43, will spend up to 18 years in prison for the second degree murder of her stepdaughter.
Baker escaped a life sentence, or even the death sentence, in return for leading police to some of Zahra's bones.
Adam Baker from north Queensland, Australia, faced the woman he had met over the internet and married in 2008. He and Zahra began a new life with her in the US.
In testimony in court he turned to her and said::''Elisa, I trusted you with the most precious person in my life. Zahra looked up to you. You not only lied to me, but to Zahra. You filled her life with lies. You robbed her of a future. You robbed us of someone who would change the world.''
His eyes filled with tears, he continued: ''You made my life hell with false accusations that I was involved with her death. There are no words to explain the hate I have for you.''
Zahra disappeared from the small house she shared with her parents on North West 21 Street, Hickory last autumn .
It was two weeks before her father realised the lump in his daughter's bed that he saw each night when he returned home from his tree-felling job was not Zahra.
Elisa implied to police that he had a role in the child’s murder and it was months before police could clear him. She claims the child fell ill at home and died of natural causes, and her plea bargain means there will be no further opportunity to compel her to reveal the truth.
The only evidence found by police points to a horrific killing: 18 faint drops of blood on the wall above Zahra's bed, her blood on some of her clothing in the house and the discovery of some of her bones and her prosthetic leg in the woods. Police also found a handsaw with indications of blood,but not enough to produce DNA.
Police said that without Baker’s co-operation they would not have been able to find parts of Zahra’s body.
Emily Dietrich, Zahra's biological mother, who turned her child over early in her life to the care of the father, said: ''I feel there will be no real justice for Zahra.''