Foster mother convicted of 2nd-degree murder in girl’s beating death

Kiana Barker was convicted Friday of second-degree murder in the beating death of her foster child, Viola Vanclief, 2.
Kiana Barker was convicted Friday of second-degree murder in the beating death of her foster child, Viola Vanclief, 2.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
This post has been updated. See note below for details.

A foster mother was convicted of second-degree murder Friday in the beating death of a 2-year-old girl she had been trying to adopt.

Kiana Barker, 33, faces 25 years to life in prison for the 2010 death of Viola Vanclief, a toddler in her care. A jury also convicted Barker of assault on a child causing death and child abuse.

“Justice was served,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Pak Kouch said after proceedings in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The case was the latest in a long series of troubles for United Care, a nonprofit foster agency that contracted with the county at the time and had placed Viola with Barker. After the girl’s death, the county terminated that contract.


Prosecutors alleged that Barker severely beat “Vicki” with a belt on March 3, 2010 -- about a day before Barker called 911, saying the girl had stopped breathing. Though doctors at a hospital attempted to revive her, a prosecutor said in her closing statement the child was “dead on arrival.”

Later, authorities said, Barker told investigators Viola had gotten stuck in a bed frame and that she might have accidentally hit the girl with a hammer as she tried to free her.

In her closing statement Thursday, Kouch showed graphic images of the toddler, battered and prostrate on a hospital bed.

“It’s hard to imagine a mother beating her child to death,” she said, but “the evidence in this case is not only simple, it’s overwhelming.”

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

Barker, she alleged, was the only person home to deliver a final blow to Viola’s upper side, which led to severe internal bleeding in her chest area. She died of blunt force trauma, authorities said.

But Barker’s attorney, Robert Haberer, said it was Barker’s then-boyfriend, James Julian, who beat the girl. Julian pleaded no contest to an accessory charge in 2011 and was sentenced to three years in jail for his role. He and Barker married less than a month after Viola’s death.

Haberer said Barker had lied to investigators, telling them Julian wasn’t at the South Los Angeles house when she found Viola unconscious.

He said Barker knew that by allowing Julian, a convicted felon, to live at her house, she was violating the county’s foster care rules.

Haberer said his client had sought more, not less, responsibility over Viola’s care. She tried to adopt the girl, which would have negated the prosecution’s contention that Barker fostered her to earn a stipend, he said.

[Updated at 4:36 p.m. PDT, Oct. 18: However, that was incorrect because if the adoption had gone through, Barker would have continued to receive a stipend until the girl’s 18th birthday and would not have been required to undergo further social worker review for her care.]

He said Friday that Barker did not “show a lot of grief” during the proceedings, including when she took the stand, which may have played into the verdict.

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Twitter: @jillcowan

Garrett Therolf contributed to this report.