Cassie Barker was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison for manslaughter in death of 3-year-old daughter

By Jeff Truesdell
April 03, 2019 05:23 PM
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A pregnant Cassie Barker is headed to prison after she was sentenced to 20 years on Monday after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the 2016 heatstroke death of her daughter, who was left in a hot car for hours while Barker had sex with her supervisor.

Her attorney, Damian Holcomb, confirmed to PEOPLE that the child with whom Barker is pregnant would be placed for adoption.

Barker, 29, who was an officer with the Long Beach Police Department on the Mississippi Gulf Coast when her toddler died, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge earlier this month.

In neighboring Alabama, as in most states, women who give birth while incarcerated face but two choices: either place the child for adoption, or surrender it immediately to a family member for temporary or permanent custody, Carol Potok, executive director of the Alabama-based Aid to Inmate Mothers, tells PEOPLE.

“If you don’t, it will go into foster care,” says Potok. “But that doesn’t happen very often.”

“It sounds horrible,” she says of the limited choices facing pregnant women who give birth while imprisoned, “but families seem to manage.”

Holcomb tells PEOPLE that Barker, who is five months pregnant, has identified a specific family who will adopt the newborn.

“The father is not the same officer who was her former supervisor that was present with her at the time of the incident,” says Holcomb. “She did tell me it wasn’t him. I’m not sure who the actual dad is. … She just hasn’t released that to me, and I haven’t asked.”

Cassie BarkerCredit: Hancock County Sheriff's Office
Cassie Barker
| Credit: Hancock County Sheriff's Office

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Barker will begin to serve her sentence at a corrections facility in Rankin County, which operates a maternity ward, until after the child is born, says Holcomb. Then she is expected to be transferred to another state prison after the child has been given up.

Currently 11 states — but not Mississippi — and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons offer nurseries where incarcerated woman can care for their newborns for a limited time. In California, inmates who qualify for a Community Prisoner Mother Program can spend as many as six years raising their child in shared quarters.

The practice nonetheless has raised concerns by those who question whether it’s unconstitutional to house children in corrections facilities, reports NBC News and The Washington Post.

Toddler Car Death
Cassie Barker
| Credit: Amanda McCoy/The Sun Herald via AP

In a statement to PEOPLE, the Mississippi Department of Corrections said: “It is the incarcerated pregnant woman’s decision regarding whom she allows to get her baby after she has delivered. The guardian may or may not be a relative. It is the mother’s choice to choose adoption. The mother can see her child during regular prison visitation. Nursery facilities are not available in the [Mississippi] prisons. Delivery is treated as a medical condition and regulated by usual and customary medical practice through the obstetrician and delivery hospital.”

“We were told there are a million people who have babies while they are in prison,” Barker’s attorney earlier told the Biloxi Sun Herald. “The way it works is, once you are medically cleared, you go back to whatever prison you are supposed to go back to.”

It was unclear whether Barker, who has been housed in the Hancock County jail pending her sentencing, had yet been transferred to another facility.

Barker and the 3-year-old girl’s father, Ryan Hyer, had been separated for a year prior to the child’s death after Hyer learned that Barker had been having an affair with her supervisor, Hyer said in court at Barker’s sentencing.

Prosecutors said that on the day Cheyenne Hyer died, Barker had gone to the home of her supervisor, Sgt. Clark Ladner, to talk to him at the end of her shift and ended up having sex with him, WLOX reported.

She left the car running with the air conditioner on to combat the 100-degree temperature, but the vent wasn’t blowing cold air, CBS News reported. Barker then fell asleep in Ladner’s home, leaving her daughter strapped in her car seat for four hours in the heat, according to authorities.

Both Barker and Ladner subsequently were fired from the police force after the child’s death, the Sun Herald reported.

On a prior occasion Barker also had left the child unattended in a car when she went into a store, prompting a passerby to call Gulfport police, according to the Sun Herald.

“As a parent, you are supposed to protect your child, and Cheyenne is gone because her mother didn’t protect her, not once but twice,” Hyer said in court Monday. “May God have mercy on her soul.”