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Foster mother gets 25-to-life in beating death of girl, 2

Crime, Law and JusticeCrimeHomicideTheft

A foster mother convicted of second-degree murder in the beating death of a 2-year-old girl was sentenced Friday to 25-years-to-life in state prison.

Kiana Barker, 34, who had been trying to adopt Viola Vanclief in 2010, severely beat the toddler and later called 911 to report that the girl had stopped breathing, prosecutors allege.

In October, a jury found Barker guilty of second-degree murder, assault on a child causing death and child abuse.

The case was the latest in a years-long series of problems for United Care, a nonprofit foster agency that contracted with Los Angeles County at the time of Viola's death and had placed the girl with Barker.

After the child's death, the county terminated its contract with United Care.

A witness said Barker had burst into Viola's room after hours of heavy drinking and beat her. When Barker was pulled away, the little girl was on the floor, struggling to breathe, the witness said.

Though doctors at a hospital attempted to revive the child, prosecutors said she was dead on arrival.

She had suffered "extensive blunt force trauma," the district attorney's office said in a statement.

A motion filed with the court at sentencing said the trauma was caused by "multiple repeated blows by an adult, exerting maximum force."

Ultimately, it was determined that Viola — placed in child care because her biological mother was a crack addict and prostitute — had died of massive bleeding in her chest cavity, prosecutors said.

Authorities said Barker eventually told investigators that Viola had become jammed in a bed frame and that she may have accidentally hit the girl with a hammer while trying to free her.

"It's hard to imagine a mother beating her child to death," Deputy Dist. Atty. Pak Kouch said after Barker's conviction.

Kouch described Barker as a violent woman who beat her biological daughter with a belt and ultimately "whooped and whooped and whooped on Viola," killing her.

The child's death focused attention on the Department of Children and Family Services, whose officials could not initially explain how the child came into the care of Barker and her then-boyfriend James Dewitt Julian.

Shortly after Viola's death, The Times reported that Barker had been the subject of five previous child-abuse complaints, including one substantiated allegation that she had severely neglected her own child in 2002.

Julian had been convicted in 1992 of armed robbery — a fact that should have disqualified him from living in a home certified for foster care.

Los Angeles County supervisors later voted to develop an investigations unit and subsequently terminated the county's relationship with United Care.

In December, The Times also reported that at least four children in the county had died as a result of abuse or neglect over the last five years in homes overseen by private agencies such as United Care.

Responding to the report, county officials launched a review of the criminal clearance process for foster parents selected by private agencies.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

matt.stevens@latimes.com

Times staff writer Jill Cowan contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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