BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — The Normal woman found guilty of killing an 8-year-old girl last year has had her sentencing vacated.
Cynthia Baker, 42, was found guilty in November of first-degree murder in the death of Rica Rountree, the daughter of Baker’s then-boyfriend, Richard. She was scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 31, but it has since been vacated. Last month, the McLean County Circuit Clerk’s Office confirmed Baker is seeking a new trial and hired a new attorney.
Now, Bloomington attorney Phil Finegan has been hired to represent Baker. She claimed ineffective assistance of counsel from her old lawyer Todd Ringel during the murder trial.
In court Friday, Finegan requested more time to gather information. A judge granted the delay and set a status hearing for Feb. 24. He previously requested the murder trial’s transcripts to review them.
Outside the McLean County Law and Justice Center, while Baker’s sentencing was vacated, family, friends, and community members gathered to rally for Rountree. Many, including Rica’s mother Anntionetta, said they have unanswered questions and want justice for the child.
They said McLean County failed the child and that Anntionetta’s concerns about her daughter’s safety were overlooked because she was a felon. During the rally, Anntionetta held her daughter’s urn.
Baker fatally kicked Rountree in the stomach, which led to massive internal injuries that eventually killed her. Additionally, the girl’s autopsy results showed multiple scars, which indicated a months-long span of abuse. Baker was also found guilty of three counts of domestic battery, one count of endangering the life of a child, and one count of aggravated battery.
During the trial, Richard was interrogated after it was revealed Baker gave him a letter, asking him to “take the blame” for her. The defense was planning to use it if either of the two were to testify. Richard gave the letter to the Normal Police Department.
Prosecutors made their case on text messages Baker and Richard exchanged, complaining about Rica. But the most graphic evidence in the case included videos from Baker’s cellphone that were played during witness testimony, and again during closing arguments, that depicted abuse and harassment.
UPDATE: Rica Rountree’s mother, Anntionetta Rountree, spoke with WMBD after Cynthia Baker’s court appearance on Friday.
It was the first time Anntionetta had seen Baker since losing her child, she’s now speaking out against the childcare system along with anyone else she believes did not do their due diligence in protecting her daughter.
Rountree believes there is no reason to keep dragging out the inevitable.
“She’s guilty, she needs to just accept her guilt and just go to prison and start her time,” Rountree said.
Anntionetta believes there are many more people that need to be held accountable.
“Richard, cause I won’t call him her dad, Richard needs to face charges. Kelsey, the girl, the daughter, needs to face charges,” Rountree said.
“I’m seeking full justice. Everybody that got up on the stand, cause I wasn’t there, but everybody that got up on the stand and said they saw something, is responsible for my daughter’s death,” Rountree added.
Rountree says she’s now trusting the system, she claims failed her family before, to not fail them again.
She hopes this situation prevents other families from experiencing a similar situation.
“I wanna make sure parents don’t go through what I went through, I wanna make sure my son doesn’t have to continue to go through what he’s going through. He should be home with me, we should be able to grieve and mourn with me,” Rountree said.
Rountree says no matter what, she is going to pursue justice for everyone responsible for the death of Rica. She hopes this will create change within the Child Services Department in McLean County.
“Do your jobs. If one person had done their jobs, if any one person that gets paid to look out for our kids, look out for our kids! If you know something, see something. If a child comes to you and says something to you, do your job,” Rountree said.
“If you’re wrong, you’re wrong. But at least you did your job. Do due diligence. Do your part. Rica told people. And because Rica was articulate, and was able to speak, she wasn’t taken seriously. Because Rica was able to come in and say ‘these things are happening to me’ in a way that wasn’t how the book says it’s supposed to look, it wasn’t taken seriously.”Anntionetta Rountree | Mother of Rica Rountree
“People that are mandated to speak on behalf of our kids, they need to either stop working in their jobs, and let somebody come in that’s going to protect our kids or they need to do their jobs because Rica didn’t need to die,” Rountree said.
Rountree says there were plenty of signs that should have shown a red flag to any person in McLean County DCFS.
“They should’ve removed her from that house. They should’ve talked to her alone. They should’ve taken her seriously. Shes’ got marks on her. What medicine cabinet falls and hits a child in the face like that? I mean come on, do your jobs,” Rountree said.
A rally was held before Baker’s appearance in court in support of Rica and Anntionetta.
“She was coming back because she was trying to protect her baby. Who battles like that? Who battles like that? Nothing but us, us mothers. That unconditional love. We’re not going to give up even though we know what we’re saying is falling on deaf ears,” said a woman speaking to the crowd.
Anntionetta, surrounded by her sister, son, and a friend says she wants all of this to be over with Cynthia Baker. She is now ready for a brighter future with her family.
“I start work on Sunday, will hopefully have an apartment soon, I’m gonna keep pressing forward. What happened yesterday, happened yesterday. I’m focused on tomorrow,” Rountree said.
If you’d like to keep up to date with future rallies dedicated to Rica Rountree, you can find them on a Facebook page ‘Justice 4 Rica Jae.’
This story will be updated.
CORRECTION: This article previously misstated that Cynthia Baker was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Rica Rountree, the daughter of her then-boyfriend’s father Richard. It has since been corrected to read that Rountree was the daughter of Baker’s then-boyfriend, Richard.