Charges filed in suspicious infant death

Shawano woman could face almost 35 years in prison

Contributed Photo Two-month-old infant Brandon Barker died last week and was discovered during a welfare check by the Shawano Police Department. His mother, Catherine Barker, has been arrested and charged in his death.

A Shawano woman was charged Friday with a felony count of neglect resulting in the death of an infant that was discovered by police during a welfare check in the city last week.

Catherine R. Barker, 22, also faces felony charges of failing to report the death of the child and attempting to hide or bury the corpse. The two-month infant, Brandon Barker, was her son.

Barker could face a maximum prison sentence totaling nearly 35 years if convicted on all three counts. She was ordered held on a $100,000 cash bond at her initial appearance Friday.

Barker, who appeared by video from the jail, showed no emotion as the state laid out her alleged crimes for the court and described the police discovery of the child on Sept. 28.

“He was visibly dead. His eyes were open. He was ice cold and he was showing clear signs of decomposition,” said Shawano-Menominee County Assistant District Attorney Catharine White.

Emergency responders called to the scene told police the child had died “hours ago,” White said.

According to the criminal complaint, Barker had sent text messages to two people, telling them the infant had died of suffocation from a blanket it had pulled up over its face and stating she planned to bury the child somewhere out in the country.

She also stated she planned to leave the area after burying the child, according to the complaint.

One of the people she texted contacted police who conducted a welfare check at Barker’s residence, according to the complaint.

Barker initially told police the baby was upstairs asleep, then later gave conflicting statements that the infant had suffocated itself with a blanket and then that she didn’t know how he died, White told the court.

Barker also said in one of her text messages the night before that the child was ill, according to the complaint, but she did not seek medical attention.

Barker’s only employment, White said, was as a babysitter for her sisters’ children, a 3-year-old and 1-year-old.

White argued for a bond as high as possible for Barker.

“This woman is a danger to the community given that her only source of employment is child care,” she said.

White also told the court that Barker could still be facing more than the three felony counts filed so far.

“Those charges may yet be upgraded when the autopsy report of the infant is completed,” she said. “This is certainly not an investigation that is complete.”

The proceedings were overseen by Family Court Commissioner Luanne Henk because both circuit court judges were away for training Friday.

Henk said the allegations against Barker were serious and disturbing, particularly her alleged failure to get medical assistance.

“This was an infant, a child totally dependent on others for his very existence and he was let down by none other than his mother,” Henk said.

Henk said that once Barker realized the child was deceased, it had been Barker’s intent to not even give the infant the dignity of a proper burial.

“She was going to go out in the country, dig a hole and put the child in the hole and drive off,” Henk said.

Barker is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on the charges Tuesday.