A state prisoner who has eluded capture for more than two months since escaping from the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel has been added to the U.S. Marshals Service national list of most wanted fugitives, authorities said Thursday.
The reward money for fruitful tips in the case of Keana Barnes also has increased, with authorities now offering $25,000 for information that directly leads to her arrest.
“Obviously, we’re hoping that’s a motivating factor for some people who may have some information about her,” U.S. Marshal Kevin Harrison said.
Barnes, 33, has strong ties to the New Orleans area and could be hiding there, authorities have said.
Barnes had been serving a 25-year manslaughter sentence for killing two men in New Orleans before she escaped Jan. 1. Corrections officials have said she broke a window in her dorm room by placing combination locks in a sock and slinging it at the glass.
Barnes is believed to have scaled several fences, including at least one barbed-wire fence, corrections officials have said, and she apparently sustained a deep cut to one of her fingers.
In the wake of the escape, one corrections employee resigned in lieu of termination and another was fired. Pam Laborde, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said Thursday that the agency will not be identifying those employees.
Authorities are still following up on leads and hope that Barnes’ addition to the high-profile fugitive list will generate new information, Harrison said. “Most wanted” posters featuring the woman’s mug shot will be displayed in courthouses and other public places.
“We have every reason to believe Ms. Barnes may be armed and dangerous based on her previous record,” Harrison said.
William D. Snelson, assistant director for investigative operations with the U.S. Marshals Service, said in a statement that Barnes’ criminal history “dictates she will most assuredly commit another deadly crime.”
Barnes pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges in New Orleans in 2004 for fatally stabbing James Robert Shepherd and fatally shooting Perry Jennings Jr.
Barnes was arrested in the Shepherd case in April 2002, but she was released from jail two months later because prosecutors had not decided whether they would formally charge her in the case, said Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.
She was later indicted in the case while she remained at large, accused of stabbing the man 17 times.
Less than a year after her release, Barnes killed again. In March 2003, she fatally shot Jennings — a man who had befriended her — while he slept. She stole the man’s vehicle, pistol and credit cards and fled to Mexico, said Ron Ruiz Jr., the former New Orleans police detective who investigated the case.
After she was captured and extradited to the United States, Barnes pleaded guilty to the lesser counts of manslaughter and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Bowman said he could not comment on why Barnes was offered that plea deal, noting it happened under a prior administration.
Ruiz said he believes Barnes, who speaks Spanish fluently, may again be hiding south of the border.
According to the U.S. Marshals Service, Barnes’ history of crime dates to 1999 and also includes convictions for aggravated assault, battery and theft.
She is described as 5 feet 4 inches, 140 pounds with dark brown eyes and short brown hair, corrections officials have said.
She has a dragon tattoo on her back, the letter “K” tattooed on her left hand and two panther tattoos on her chest, according to authorities.
Anyone with information about Barnes is asked to call the U.S. Marshals Office at (225) 389-0364 or (800) 336-0102.
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