Natchitoches woman sentenced in 2018 burning death of her infant son
NATCHITOCHES, La. (KALB) - Hanna Barker, 26, the Natchitoches woman accused in connection with the July 2018 burning death of her infant son, has accepted a plea bargain on new charges.
Barker pleaded guilty to a count of manslaughter of a child under 10 years old with a 10-year sentence and a count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder of a child under 12 years old with a 30-year sentence.
Barker will serve both sentences concurrently, for a total of 30 years.
Barker pled guilty under the Alford Plea, which essentially means she maintains innocence but accepted the plea out of her own best interest.
Barker had faced two charges, including first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder of a child younger than 12 years old. District Attorney Billy Harrington had also pushed for the death penalty.
She was supposed to stand trial for those charges in Calcasieu Parish on June 6.
Levi was 6-months-old in July of 2018 when Barker first told police he disappeared when two men confronted her at her home and pepper-sprayed her in the face. She claimed she escaped from the men and when she got back home, her son was missing. The baby was later found a few miles away with severe burns on 90% of his body, the Natchitoches Parish District Attorney’s Office says. He died a few hours later in a Shreveport hospital.
Barker’s girlfriend, Felicia Marie-Nicole Smith, 29, of Natchitoches, has admitted to the homicide. Smith previously pleaded guilty to charges of manslaughter, criminal conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and cruelty to a juvenile. Natchitoches officials said on Wednesday, May 4, she was sentenced to a total of 80 years imprisonment. Her plea agreement was contingent upon her testifying against Barker.
Before Barker’s sentencing, several members of Levi’s family gave and submitted statements.
Billy Ellerbe, Levi’s father, recalled how he felt when he found out he’d have a son, saying Levi would be able to carry on the Ellerbe name in a family full of girls. He had hoped to give Levi the chance to give the name a fresh start.
Kathy Ellerbe, Levi’s grandmother, recalled the moment he came into the world and the last few hours before he died. He was her 12th grandchild and the only boy.
“The loss of my grandson and knowing how he was murdered has been devastating. For the past three years, our hearts have been broken and there will always be a void in our lives because of this evil. I will never forget the joy Levi brought to us in his short life. I want to remember him in a happy way not have to relive all of this again during a trial,” said Kathy, prior to the hearing.
And Brittany Whittington, Levi’s aunt, detailed the relationship she had with Barker and how they accepted her as family. She recalled how she had comforted Barker in the hours following the reported abduction. To Barker, she said, “You betrayed us, you manipulated us, and you hurt us.”
“In my experience prosecuting cases throughout Louisiana, this case ranks as one of the most heinous and callous acts of cruelty I have ever seen,” said Special Prosecutor Clifford Strider, who has over 40 years of experience in prosecuting capital cases and violent crimes.
Harrington released a statement following the proceedings, saying, “Our prosecution team spent thousands of hours in developing this case. Every minute was worth it to secure guilty pleas from the mother who devised an evil plan to have her son killed and from Barker’s girlfriend who carried out Barker’s plan. In Barker’s case, there was little physical evidence to implicate her in the murder of Levi, but substantial circumstantial evidence was developed by law enforcement. Apparently, the threat of testimony by Smith, coupled with the circumstantial evidence, motivated Barker to accept responsibility for her actions. We were fortunate to obtain Barker’s guilty plea considering the nature of this crime and lack of physical evidence.”
Barker’s attorney, Dhu Thompson, also released a statement, saying, “This case is an absolute tragedy on so many levels. One is the horrific manner in which baby Levi was killed by Felicia Smith. Second is what my client has also had to endure throughout this process. She’s lost her only child to the horrible and unimaginable actions of Felicia Smith, and while having to grieve and mourn her baby boy, she’s had to do so while losing years of her life and her freedom in the process. Faced with the resources of the state against her, the emotions of the case in front of the jury and the risk of a sentence that would incarcerate her for the rest of her life, my client had to make the decision to choose what was in her best interest and accept a plea that will allow her to get out of jail in a few years while also maintaining her innocence. This was the basis of the Alford plea done today, which as the case law provides, allows a person to accept a best interest plea under protestation of innocence.”
Judge Desiree Dyess presided over both cases. Thompson represented Barker, with Cliff Strider acting as lead prosecutor, alongside Harrington.
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