BLOOMINGTON — Cynthia Baker said she did everything she could to keep 8-year-old Rica Rountree alive, but her children told police she kicked the girl in her final days.
Detective Kendra DeRosa, who investigated Rica’s death with Normal police, testified in Baker’s trial Thursday.
Baker is charged with of murder, aggravated battery and child endangerment in connection in Rica’s death and three counts of domestic battery involving her between May 26 and Sept. 8.
DeRosa said she interviewed Baker’s children before she spoke with Baker on Jan. 26, hours after the child died.
“She really just tries hard; she tried hard to do what’s right,” Baker said i the interview.
Baker did not speak during the trial Thursday.
Earlier in the interview Baker said that when Rica realized she had to stay in their house and couldn’t live with her mother, “her mental state changed” and “it was like she did wrong to try to get sent to her mom’s.”
Baker’s children told detectives Rica had been “very mean at the old house” and yelled at and tried to bite Baker, DeRosa said.
“There was no discipline,” Baker said. “I just don’t ever hit kids ... I just never have with any of my kids.”
However, Baker’s children said she spanked them with her hand or a belt.
Baker later said she physically disciplined the children when they misbehaved, but those incidents were “a long, long time ago."
In the video, Baker described Rica’s final days starting with the child vomiting on her dinner plate on Jan. 23. She was sent to bed and the next day said she was feeling fine, Baker said.
After school the next day, Rica said her stomach hurt. Baker told her to try going to the bathroom, but she couldn't.
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On Jan. 25, the day before Rica died, Baker found Rica running into walls and almost falling down the stairs. Rica said her eyes were blurry and she couldn’t see.
Baker gave her a bath, but the girl said she didn’t feel better and kept repeating, “I’m just tired.” Baker thought Rica was fine.
“Sometimes she does this, and it’s like attention, you know. She’s like pretending,” Baker said in the video.
Baker put the girl in bed. When she came back to check on her, Rica didn’t answer at first, but then seemed to wake up and said: “I’m just so tired. I’m so tired.”
Baker said she knew something was wrong and picked her up in her arms. Her daughter called 911. As emergency personnel arrived, Rica’s eyes rolled back in her head, Baker said.
Baker tried to keep the other children calm once the paramedics took over and said she was “getting aggravated” because Rica was vomiting on the floor.
Later, doctors told the family Rica didn’t have a pulse for at least 15 minutes while she was in the ambulance on the way to Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal. She was eventually transported to OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.
Rica underwent emergency surgery for intestinal perforation, but the surgeon told Baker and Rountree her chance of survival was slim.
“I did everything I could,” Baker said in the interview, her voice soft. “It all just happened so fast. It’s still like a dream ... like a nightmare.”
Wiping tears away, she said in the interview Rica never spoke up about being sick or in pain.
The surgeon told Baker Rica’s injury had been progressing for three to five days. DeRosa said the surgeon found Rica’s abdomen full of blood.
Baker said she didn’t know what could have caused the injury; she couldn’t recall any falls on her stomach, car accidents or physical altercations.
DeRosa said Baker’s children told her Baker kicked Rica in the stomach because she stole food from the kitchen when she was supposed to be standing in the corner.
Baker said she didn’t remember Rica stealing food and denied ever kicking or punching the girl in the stomach.
Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.