Daughter accused in murder pleads to lesser charge

Savannah Morganne Baker, of La Crosse, the daughter of a Mecklenburg County woman who was the last known caregiver to a toddler who died of blunt force trauma on Feb. 3, 2016, entered an Alford plea to charges of conspiracy to commit child abuse before Judge Leslie M. Osborn in the Mecklenburg County Circuit Court on Monday morning.
Savannah Baker originally faced a charge of first degree murder in the death of 3-year-old Alonzo “A.J.” Roane.
Her mother, Jessica Eve Baker, of Boydton, was said to be looking after the child, her step-grandson, on the night of his death. Jessica Baker was charged on counts of first degree murder, homicide, child abuse causing serious injury and cruelty and injury to a child.
A three-day jury trial for Jessica Baker is scheduled to start on March 29.
Appearing before Judge Osborn on Monday, Savannah Baker said she agreed to the Alford plea of her own free will. An Alford plea is not an admission of guilt but concedes that evidence presented would likely lead to a guilty verdict.
During questions after she entered the plea, Baker told Osborn that she was not guilty but agreed that there was sufficient evident to lead to verdict of guilty.
Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Joshua B. Hatchell told the court that had the case gone to trial, the Commonwealth would have presented evidence in the form of a telephone conversation between Savannah and Jessica Baker in which they discussed the injuries sustained by the toddler.
Hatchell also told the judge that the family of the victim did not have a problem with the Alford plea to the lesser charge for Savannah Baker.
The charge of conspiracy to commit child abuse is generally punishable by up to a five-year prison term. On Monday, Judge Osborn ordered a pre-sentence report for Savannah Baker prior to final sentencing. That final sentence is scheduled to be handed down on April 18 at 9:30 a.m.
On the evening of Feb. 3, 2016, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office was notified that Jessica Baker was traveling to VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill with a child having difficulty breathing. Dep. Neil Clayton and Southside Rescue Squad intercepted the vehicle at Park View High School, and the child was transported the Emergency Department. Roane was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.
An investigation began immediately, and an autopsy was performed on the child. The medical examiner determined the child died from blunt force trauma.
Based on the investigation, Jessica Baker was indicted for murder on Feb. 16. She was found and taken into custody in Dickenson County later that same day and returned to Mecklenburg the following day.
Jessica Baker was held without bond in the Meherrin River Regional Jail awaiting trial.
In August of 2016, Savannah Baker was also charged after the Mecklenburg County Grand Jury issued a direct indictment against her on murder charges.