The American woman accused of the brutal murder and dismemberment of 10-year-old Australian cancer survivor Zahra Baker has collapsed during an emotionally-charged hearing in a North Carolina court.

Elisa Baker, Zahra's stepmother, looked pale and was shaking as she stood before Judge Eric Levinson in the Newton courtroom today as her lawyer and prosecutors debated the case, which could be moved to another county because of the publicity it has generated.

Baker, who has been in custody since October last year and had her hands and legs shackled for the court appearance, appeared to faint and collapse into a chair.

The 42-year-old accused murderer's lawyer, Scott Reilly, berated prosecutors for parading Baker "out here for the media" when he believed she would not have to appear in court for the hearing.

"It infuriates me," Mr Reilly, who gave Baker a cup of water, told the court.

Baker is charged with the second-degree murder of Zahra and obstruction of justice, with prosecutors pushing for the charges to be dealt with separately.

Baker was not present in court for the first part of the legal debate, but when it appeared Mr Reilly and assistant district attorney Eric Bellas were at loggerheads, Judge Levinson ordered Baker be brought into court.

Wagga Wagga-born Zahra's death and dismemberment last year has angered and shocked her hometown of Hickory and county of Catawba and Mr Reilly argued Baker's trial should be moved to another county because "there's no way she can get a fair trial".

District attorney Jay Gaither disagreed.

"I believe the people of Catawba County have the ability to put aside all the media and give her a fair trial," Mr Gaither said.

Zahra's father, Adam Baker, who met Elisa on the internet and moved to the US with Zahra to be with Elisa, has not been charged in relation to his daughter's death.