Foster mother who fatally beat 2-year-old gets 25 to life

Kiana Barker is led from the courtroom in October after being found guilty of second-degree murder of a 2-year-old girl.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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.


HOMICIDE REPORT: A story for every victim

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.

Witnesses said that Baker 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 girl, prosecutors said the child was “dead on arrival.”

The girl 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 the child -- who was placed in child care because her biological mother was a crack addict and prostitute -- had died from massive bleeding in her chest cavity, prosecutors said.

Authorities said that Barker eventually told investigators that Viola had become jammed in a bed frame and that she might have accidentally hit the girl with a hammer as she tried to free 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 biological 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 their relationship with United Care.

HOMICIDE REPORT: A story for every victim

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

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

Viola’s remains have been buried in an unmarked grave in Carson.


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Times staff writer Jill Cowan contributed to this report.