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Foster mother, boyfriend rearrested in alleged beating death of girl, 2

More than four months after a 2-year-old foster child was allegedly beaten to death, Los Angeles police have rearrested the foster mother and her boyfriend in connection with the killing.

Kiana Barker, 30, was arrested Thursday and faces charges of murder, child abuse and dissuading a witness, according to the felony complaint issued in the case. Barker’s bail was set at $1.1 million.

Two days later her boyfriend, James Julian, 38, surrendered to police. He faces charges of accessory to murder after the fact and dissuading a witness, according to court records. He is being held in lieu of $1.6-million bail.

Both had been under suspicion since Viola Vanclief’s death March 4. At that time, according to coroner’s records, Barker told authorities that Viola had been caught in a bed frame and was accidentally hit with a hammer while Barker tried to free her. No immediate medical care was sought for the girl, according to the coroner’s initial information.

Barker and Julian were initially arrested March 9 on suspicion of murder but were released two days later, with no charges filed. At the time, police said they were continuing to investigate.

Since then, investigators have worked to meticulously re-create the hours before the toddler’s death, according to Lt. Vincent Neglia of the LAPD’s Juvenile Division.

Detectives worked with medical experts to pinpoint Viola’s injuries, and they used interviews and other techniques to determine Barker’s whereabouts at the time the injuries occurred. “It was very difficult to put together a timeline,” Neglia said.

Before Viola’s death, Barker was in the final stages of being approved by the county Department of Children and Family Services to adopt the girl despite being the subject of five previous child-abuse complaints, including one substantiated allegation that she had severely neglected her own biological child in 2002, according to confidential records.

Julian, who is known as “Big Bird,” was convicted in 1992 of armed robbery, according to court records.

The couple’s troubled history raised questions about how Barker could have been approved as a foster parent by child-welfare authorities. Under state rules, both adults should have been disqualified from caring for or living with foster children.

In response to Viola’s death, Los Angeles County has since terminated its contract with United Care, the foster-family agency that certified Barker and ran state background checks on her.

United Care, which oversaw 88 homes with 216 foster children, had been repeatedly cited in recent years after caregivers choked, hit or whipped their charges with a belt.

Additionally, county auditors found financial irregularities at the agency in 2007. According to the report, United Care was paid $3.95 million for the care of 232 children, but $274,608 in expenditures wasdetermined to be “questionable,” and it was ordered to be repaid to taxpayers. Much of the money remains uncollected.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com


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