Lawyer will provide evidence in search

By James Hannah The Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio – After resisting for more than three years, a former federal public defender agreed yesterday to testify about what a former client may have told her about the 1999 disappearance of a 9-year-old girl.

Beth Lewis released a statement saying she decided to testify in the Erica Baker case after losing her appeal before a federal appeals court in Cincinnati. Courts have turned down her argument that conversations with her client should be confidential.

“I now find that I must fulfill my duty as an attorney to the courts,” Lewis said.

Authorities believe Erica is dead, struck by a van and her body buried. However, no murder charge has been filed in the case, Erica’s body has never been found and police have stopped looking because they are out of leads.

Authorities believe Lewis’ former client may have been in the van that struck Erica. Lewis refused to answer questions about that when she appeared before a grand jury.

“Anything and everything we can get is what we’re after,” said Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias Heck Jr. “We want every bit of information we can about what happened, where Erica is, what happened to Erica Baker.”

In October, a jury found Christian Gabriel guilty of corpse abuse and evidence tampering in Erica’s disappearance.

Prosecutors accuse Gabriel of driving the van that hit Erica as she darted into a street between parked cars and burying the girl’s body in a state park.

Pam Schmidt, Erica’s grandmother, said she hopes whatever information Lewis has will somehow help the family locate Erica’s remains.

“I don’t know what she knows, but I know she knows something,” Schmidt said. “It’s a huge puzzle, and each piece fits into that puzzle. Eventually that puzzle’s going to be put together, and we’re going to know where Erica is.”

Earlier yesterday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled 3-0 that federal courts do not have jurisdiction in the matter and sent the case back to state court, which found Lewis in contempt for refusing to testify.

The federal court said Lewis chose to litigate her case in state court.

“Having had her day in court, Lewis seeks to profit from outrunning her first state contempt order by raising federal arguments that she failed to raise when she had the chance,” the appeals court wrote.