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Attorney to Testify in Missing Girl Case

January 10, 2006 GMT

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) _ After a three-year legal battle, a former federal public defender agreed Tuesday to testify about what a former client, now dead, may have told her about the 1999 disappearance of a 9-year-old girl.

Beth Lewis relented and decided to testify in the Erica Baker case after losing an appeal before a federal appeals court earlier in the day.

Lewis had argued that her conversations with her client, Jan Franks, were protected by attorney-client confidentiality, even though Franks has been dead for more than four years. But the courts repeatedly rejected that argument.

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

Investigators believe Erica was struck and killed by a van and her body buried. They suspect Lewis’ former client may have been a passenger in the van.

Lewis refused to answer questions about her client when she appeared before a grand jury several years ago. The attorney was found in contempt but managed to stay out of jail while she appealed.

Erica’s body has never been found and police have stopped looking because they are out of leads.

``Anything and everything we can get is what we’re after,″ prosecutor Mathias Heck Jr. said. ``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 believe Gabriel was driving the van that hit Erica as she darted into a street between parked cars and that he helped bury the girl’s body in a state park.

Gabriel took investigators to various sites in their search for the body, but no trace of the girl was found. Gabriel has not been charged directly with causing the girl’s death.

Investigators are hoping that Lewis’ testimony will lead to the girl’s remains and perhaps additional criminal charges in her death.

Franks died of a drug overdose in 2001.

Pam Schmidt, Erica’s grandmother, said of Lewis: ``I don’t know what she knows, but I know she knows something. 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 Tuesday, 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.

``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.

Prosecutors have argued that Lewis must testify because Franks’ husband gave Lewis permission to do so. Ohio is one of the few states that allow a surviving spouse to give permission for an attorney to reveal privileged conversations with a client.

Heck said that within the next 30 days prosecutors will set a date to have a grand jury hear Lewis’ testimony.

``I’ve never understood her position all these years,″ Schmidt said of Lewis. ``We want to bring Erica home.″