Natchitoches mom pleads not guilty to infant son's death

Left to Right: Felicia Smith, Baby Levi, Hannah Barker | Photos: Natchitoches PD
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NATCHITOCHES, La. (KTBS) - A Natchitoches Parish woman accused in the burning death of her child says she is not guilty.

Hanna Barker entered the not guilty plea today in Natchitoches Parish District Court. A court date is set for January 2020, according to her attorney Dhu Thompson.

Barker and her girlfriend Felicia Smith, also of Natchitoches, have been indicted for first-degree murder in the July death of Barker’s son, Levi Cole Ellerbe. Prosecutors allege the two, led by Barker, concocted and carried out a plan to kill the 7-month-old.

A trial date has not been set for Smith who is still without an attorney. A hearing last month to appoint counsel was unsuccessful. Another is set for 1 p.m. Dec. 20.

Investigators arrested the women after Levi’s burned body was found near railroad tracks adjacent to a Natchitoches neighborhood on the night of July 17. Authorities say Smith took Levi there, poured gasoline on him, set him on fire then returned to work.

First-responders found Levi alive, but severely burned. He was taken to a Shreveport hospital, where he died the next day. The coroner’s office said he suffered second-degree and third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body.

Smith, 25, was arrested three days later and charged with first-degree murder. Barker’s arrest as a principal to the crime came four days later. The grand jury upgraded the charge to first-degree murder.

A gag order issued by a Natchitoches Parish district judge prevents court officials and investigators from talking about the case. But the details were revealed in September during a court hearing to determine if there was enough evidence to hold Barker in jail.

A state fire marshal investigator described what he called inconsistencies in Barker’s statements and evidence of a staged crime scene. He also shared statements made by Smith during her interviews that implicated Barker as the one spearheading the plan to kill her child.

Thompson pointed out that prosecutors have no direct evidence linking Barker to Levi’s death. There are no text messages or telephone records between the two women talking about a plan, and there are no fingerprints, DNA or other evidence to support Smith’s claim.

The fire marshal investigator offered no motive for the crime, other than referencing statements made by Smith that Barker found it difficult to find babysitters and keep a job. And while Barker initially denied a sexual relationship with Smith, the investigator said Smith admitted there was one. There was also jealousy between the two because of a former girlfriend.