NATCHITOCHES (KTAL/KMSS) – The Natchitoches Parish woman charged in the 2018 burning death of her infant son has pleaded guilty, heading off a trial set for early next month.

Hanna Nicole Barker, 26, pleaded guilty Wednesday to manslaughter and criminal conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the death of her 6-month-old baby, Levi Cole.

Barker’s trial had been set for June 6 after it was pushed back from April 25 due to a change in the planned location for jury selection due to pre-trial publicity.

Barker initially told police the baby disappeared when two men confronted her at her home and pepper-sprayed her in the face. She claimed she escaped the confrontation and when she returned to her home, Levi was missing.

The baby was found a few miles away with severe burns on over 90% of his body. He died several hours later in a Shreveport hospital.

Earlier, Barker’s girlfriend, 29-year-old Felicia Marie-Nicole Smith of Natchitoches admitted to committing the homicide.

Smith pleaded guilty in July 2021 to charges of manslaughter, criminal conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and cruelty to a juvenile. Wednesday, she was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

The plea arrangement for Smith included an 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.

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.”

“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,” Harrison County District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington said in a statement confirming the plea deal. “We could not allow the mother, who planned to have her baby killed, to not be held responsible for her actions.”

“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 Special Prosecutor Clifford R. Strider, III, who prosecuted the cases alongside Harrington.

“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.”

Judge Desiree Duhon Dyess presided over the case.