State Fire Marshal’s Office helps with evidence to convict mother in death of infant son

Published 8:20 am Thursday, May 5, 2022

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The case of the murder of infant Levi Cole Ellerbe reached a conclusion today with the second defendant pleading guilty to charges relating to the 2018 homicide.
Hanna Nicole Barker, 26, of Montgomery, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and criminal conspiracy to commit first degree murder in the 10th Judicial District Court. Barker was the mother of the victim.
Levi Ellerbe was six months old in July 2018 when Barker initially told police he disappeared when two men confronted her at her home and pepper-sprayed her in the face. She said she escaped the confrontation and when she returned to her home, Levi was missing. The child was found a few miles away with severe burns over 90% of his body. He died several hours later in a Shreveport hospital.
Barker’s girlfriend, Felicia Marie-Nicole Smith, 29, of Natchitoches, has admitted to committing the homicide. Smith previously pleaded guilty to charges of manslaughter, criminal conspiracy to commit first degree murder, and cruelty to a juvenile. Today, she was sentenced to a total of 80 years of imprisonment at hard labor. The plea arrangement for Smith included her agreement to testify against Barker at trial.
Barker was sentenced to a total of 30 years of imprisonment at hard labor for her guilty pleas to charges of manslaughter and criminal conspiracy.
Judge Desiree Duhon Dyess presided over the case.
Kathy Ellerbe, Levi’s paternal grandmother, provided an impact statement during the court proceeding to both defendants.
“The loss of my grandson and knowing how he was murdered has been devastating. For the past three years, our hearts have been broken and there will always be a void in our lives because of this evil. I will never forget the joy Levi brought to us in his short life. I want to remember him in a happy way not have to relive all of this again during a trial,” said Ellerbe prior to the hearing.
Billy Ellerbe, Levi’s father, thanked Natchitoches City Police Lieutenant Jeff Townson
and the first responders for their compassion in the case.
District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington and Special Prosecutor Clifford R. Strider, III prosecuted the cases.
“We were able to secure convictions on both defendants, despite the lack of physical evidence on Barker, who enlisted Smith to carry out the crime. We could not allow the mother, who planned to have her baby killed, to not be held responsible for her actions,” said District Attorney Harrington.
“Both defendants are culpable in this horrible crime and today Hanna Barker admitted as such when she pleaded guilty to avoid putting her fate in the hands of a jury,” said Strider.
“In my experience prosecuting cases throughout Louisiana, this case ranks as one of the most heinous and callous acts of cruelty I have ever seen,” said Strider, who has over 40 years experience in prosecuting capital cases and violent crimes.
“After numerous meetings and extensive input from the family of the victim, we agree that today’s guilty plea and prison sentences at hard labor for both defendants will begin to bring some sense of closure to the family,” said Strider.
Harrington commended the dedicated work of the Louisiana Fire Marshal’s Office, the Natchitoches Police Department, and the Natchitoches Fire Department. Their commitment to justice was indispensable in obtaining these convictions. Harrington specifically noted the tireless and professional assistance rendered by Lt. Jeff Townson of the Natchitoches Police Department.
“Our prosecution team spent thousands of hours in developing this case. Every minute was worth it to secure guilty pleas from the mother who devised an evil plan to have her son killed and from Barker’s girlfriend who carried out Barker’s plan. In Barker’s case, there was little physical evidence to implicate her in the murder of Levi, but substantial circumstantial evidence was developed by law enforcement. Apparently, the threat of testimony by Smith, coupled with the circumstantial evidence, motivated Barker to accept responsibility for her actions. We were fortunate to obtain Barker’s guilty plea considering the nature of this crime and lack of physical evidence,” said Harrington.