Mom to stand trial for toddler's death
Stacey Barker, 24, also faces assault, child abuse charges
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press
Tuesday, July 28, 2009.
By CRAIG CURRIER
Valley Press Staff Writer
LANCASTER - A Lancaster mother suspected of smothering her toddler daughter in March told homicide detectives she lied about the circumstances of her child's death because she feared people would say she was a bad mother.
Stacey Marie Barker, 24, was in an Antelope Valley courtroom Monday, appearing for the second time in seven days.
The preliminary hearing for Barker, which took place over two days and totaled around four hours, was completed Monday with Judge Carlos Chung finding sufficient evidence for Barker to stand trial for the murder of her 18-month-old daughter, Emma Leigh Barker.
Barker faces one count each of murder, assault on a child causing death and child abuse, stemming from the March 18 death of her daughter. Her preliminary hearing began the afternoon of July 21 and carried through to the end of the court day.
Detective Sandra Nava of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's homicide investigation unit, one of two detectives who interviewed Barker in the days following the toddler's March 18 death, continued her testimony Monday. Nava said Barker maintained the death was accidental throughout the interview, which lasted more than two hours.
"We informed her that an autopsy would be done to determine the cause of death, and that's when she changed (her story)," Nava said in court.
Nava said she did not believe Barker was telling the truth when she told detectives that her daughter choked on a plastic baggie. According to Nava's testimony, Barker initially told detectives she left her Lancaster home on March 18 with the intent of driving to Long Beach to ask the child's father for money to help support Emma. According to detectives, she told her family she was headed to the park with the toddler when she left the house.
Some time during the drive Barker said she gave Emma her purse and the toddler began playing with a plastic baggie she found inside of it.
"When she turned around again, she saw Emma was slumped down with a baggie in her mouth," Nava said. "She said she continued to drive. She didn't want to be considered a bad mom, so she drove around thinking about what to do."
Barker told detectives that about 15 minutes later she tossed the baggie out the window and began driving back to the Antelope Valley.
Nava said detectives questioned Barker for roughly 90 minutes before taking a break during that first interview with her. After leaving for the first time, they returned to ask another round of questions.
During the second portion, as detectives repeatedly warned her that an autopsy would reveal the true cause of death, Nava said Barker changed her story. She then told detectives that the toddler's blanket had gotten caught on the back of her seat during a game of peek-a-boo, suffocating her.
Nava said the inconsistencies in Barker's story heightened her suspicion Barker was not telling the real story.
"It wasn't that we didn't believe her," Nava said. "It was that she was beginning to tell what had happened."
According to Nava's testimony, Barker told detectives she eventually made it back to a Palmdale park-and-ride where she hit herself in the ribs, took off her clothes and threw them over a fence to make it look like she had been raped and her child subsequently abducted.
Under questioning, Barker directed authorities to where she left the child's body in Sylmar, officials said. Authorities soon after discovered Emma in the 13000 block of El Dorado Avenue.
Robert Dager, the public defender representing Barker, said cellphone records show Barker's phone was connecting with service towers near the 405 Freeway in the Lawndale area during the time she claimed she was driving to Long Beach.
Dager asked Judge Carlos Chung to dismiss all three counts because the evidence "points toward an accident" and does not show malice or a history of child abuse.
Chung, though, denied the request, along with Dager's plea to release Barker from jail on her own recognizance.
"I think there is more than enough evidence," Chung said.
Barker attended Emma's funeral March 24 at Joshua Memorial Park and Mortuary. She was booked in Lancaster on April 23 and remains held in lieu of $1 million bail. Barker will appear in court again Aug. 10, but no date has been set for the trial to begin.
Neither Dager nor Deputy District Attorney Kelly Cromer would comment on the case. Members of Barker's family also declined to speak with reporters outside the courtroom Monday.
The maximum penalty Barker faces is 25 years to life in prison.