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Jury gets case against woman charged with foster daughter’s beating death

City News Service | 10/18/2013, 1:24 p.m.
Jurors began deliberations today in the trial of a South Los Angeles woman charged with murdering the 2 1/2-year-old foster ...

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Jurors began deliberations today in the trial of a South Los Angeles woman charged with murdering the 2 1/2-year-old foster daughter she was in the process of adopting.

During the trial, Kiana Barker maintained that she did not fatally beat Viola Vanclief on March 4, 2010.

“I did not administer those injuries ... ,” the 33-year-old Barker testified. “I don’t know how they were caused, but I know I didn’t cause them.”

Barker is charged with one count each of murder, assault on a child causing death and child abuse.

In closing arguments Thursday, Deputy District Attorney Pak Kouch told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury that it had a “mountain of evidence proving the defendant’s guilt in this case.

“It’s clear that the defendant will blame others ... But it is the defendant who is responsible for Viola’s death,” the prosecutor said.

Barker’s attorney, Robert E. Haberer, countered that there was an “absence of proof and evidence” about what happened.

The defense lawyer said he realized that jurors might not like his client, who admittedly displayed a lack of emotion as paramedics and doctors desperately tried to save the little girl’s life.

“The fact that Kiana Barker didn’t cry or act hysterically ... doesn’t prove anything,” Haberer told jurors.

During the prosecution’s case, Los Angeles firefighter Michael Pagliuso testified that the toddler didn’t show any signs of life at all, and that Barker didn’t seem to be very worried. He said that parents are typically hysterical when something happens to a child and that he had seen “a lot different reactions than what I got out of the defendant.”

Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Ronald Harmon said the little girl appeared to be “lifeless” on the living room floor of the home in the 100 block of East Gage Avenue.

“The original answer was that the baby must have choked on apple juice,” Harmon said of Barker’s response — something Barker later denied having told firefighters.

When asked how long the baby had been down, Barker’s boyfriend responded 20 minutes and Barker countered it had only been five minutes, the fire captain said.

Dr. David Duarte, a surgeon who treated the girl, testified that the hospital team spent a lot of effort trying to save the girl, who he said had bruising to her lower back, buttocks and thighs.

He said the girl’s injuries could not have been caused by being stuck between bed railings — something Barker testified had occurred a day before the child’s death.

Dr. James Ribe with the Los Angeles County coroner’s office testified that he determined the girl had died from blunt force trauma.

“That means blows that were inflicted by an adult,” he said, noting that the girl suffered internal bleeding.

Testifying in her own defense, Barker said she had been working on adopting the girl.

“I was in love with her. That was my godbaby,” she said.

Barker testified that she had met the girl’s mother through their church