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Stepmother of murdered N.C. girl Zahra Baker could get 18 years in prison after guilty plea

Elisa Baker arrives for a court appearance in Newton, N.C., Monday, Sept. 12, 2011. AP Photo/Chuck Burton

(CBS/WBTV/AP) NEWTON, N.C. - North Carolina woman Elisa Baker is facing up to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty Thursday to murdering and dismembering her disabled 10-year-old stepdaughter, nearly a year after freckle-faced Zahra Baker's disappearance and death shocked communities here and in Baker's native Australia.

Pictures: Zahra Baker Missing

Elisa Baker, 43, entered the courtroom wearing a hot-pink jailjumpsuit and handcuffs. She sat between two defense attorneys and teared up before pleading guilty to second-degree murder, with aggravating factors that included desecrating the body of Zahra Baker, who used a prosthetic leg and hearing aids after a struggle with bone cancer.

Elisa Baker also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in the case, and to charges unrelated to Zahra's death, including obtaining property by false pretenses, financial identity fraud and bigamy.

The plea deal revealed unknown details about the case, including the fact that Elisa Baker helped police find Zahra's body - but only after there were 58 searches over the span of about 2 weeks, reports CBS affiliate WBTV.

Parts of Zahra's body were found in multiple sites around Hickory, N.C. months after her disappearance was reported. Her arm bone, prosthetic leg, torso and pelvic area were found, but her head and many other body parts were never found, investigators said in court Thursday. A saw, which police believe was used to dismember Zahra, was also found.

The plea deal also revealed that Elisa Baker found Zahra unresponsive in her room the day she died on Sept. 24, 2010. Elisa Baker told police she tried to help Zahra, investigators said.

After the plea was announced Thursday morning, the prosecutor in the case said that the family of Zahra is entitled to the cost of transporting the child to Australia for a proper burial.

Adam Baker, Zahra's father and Elisa's husband, was present in the courtroom, 40 miles northwest of Charlotte. Adam Baker, who came to the U.S. with his daughter after meeting Elisa online, faces multiple criminal charges of his own, although none are related to his daughter's death.

Elisa Baker's guilty plea comes almost a year after Zahra was reported missing from her home in Hickory. Initially, she and Adam told police they believed their daughter had been kidnapped, but that story quickly unraveled as police arrested Elisa and charged her with forging a ransom note.

Complete coverage of Zahra Clare Baker on Crimesider

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