Updated, 4:35 p.m. 1/6/16: The man police named the prime suspect in the disappearance this summer of 21-month old Lonzie Barton will go to trial next week as scheduled. His motion to delay his trial was denied Wednesday.
A Duval County circuit court judge also ruled that 32-year old Ruben Ebron will be tried on four counts that relate to the missing toddler. Another three counts stemming from an alleged escape attempt will be addressed at a later trial.
Earlier Wednesday, the missing boy’s mother, Lonna Barton, pleaded guilty to child neglect and lying to police. Barton’s attorney, Kevin Carlisle, says his client also promised to testify at Ebron’s trial.
“Part of her agreement is that she will testify truthfully, whether she’s called by the state or the defense. And she’s likely to be called by one or the other or both, so that’s part of the agreement. She’s going to get up there and tell the truth,” Carlisle said.
WJCT’s Cyd Hoskinson asked, “Given her history, how would you know it’s the truth?”
Carlisle responded, “Well, she’s going to be placed under oath to tell the truth under penalties of perjury, so it’s up to her.”
Barton faces up to six years in prison. She will be sentenced Feb. 17.
The original story is below:
Lonna Barton, the mother of a Jacksonville toddler who disappeared over the summer and was never found, pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of child neglect and giving false information to a law enforcement officer.
As part of her plea agreement, Barton will provide testimony against her ex-boyfriend, Ruben Ebron, in his case.
Barton will be sentenced Feb. 1. The child neglect charge, a third-degree felony, carries up to five years in prison, and the charge of lying to police, which is a misdemeanor, carries a punishment of up to one year in jail.
Barton and Ebron were charged with child neglect and lying to police after Lonzie Barton's disappearance in July. Barton had been facing two counts of child neglect, but pleaded guilty to only one of those charges as part of the plea agreement.
News4Jax had heard of discussions about a possible plea agreement for several weeks. Sources confirmed the deal late Tuesday afternoon.
"Our family is just learning about this plea deal right now. I did not expect this. We are going to let this play out in court tomorrow before we comment on this development in Ruben's case," said Wanda Ebron, Reuben Ebron's mother, on Tuesday.
Local attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters, who is not affiliated with the case, shed light on why the deal may have been so important to the prosecution.
"We've heard from sources that it's likely that the state's case hasn't fallen into place as they thought it would," Peoples-Waters said. "They may have some difficulty locating other potential witnesses, so it looks like they have posed to Lonna Barton a sweeter deal than they had previously posed her, and this is at a time where she's willing to accept it."
Ebron was due to go on trial next week, but his defense is expected to ask a judge for more time to get their case together based on the new developments.
Peoples-Waters also said if Barton has any information that would implicate Ebron in the death of her son, her statements could help build a murder case against him. But she said Barton’s credibility could be questionable because she is already charged with lying to police.
"So the defense is going to be able to impeach her if she changes her testimony and say, 'We have you on videotape where you consistently said that you didn't know anything, so now all of a sudden you know something?'" Peoples-Waters said.
Barton still faces drug charges in Baker County that were not addressed in the plea agreement.
Ebron faces additional charges related to tampering with evidence and planning an escape from jail.
Ebron's attorney has filed several motions, including separating the trials and suppressing much of the evidence against him.
It's important to note that no one has been charged with Lonzie’s death. His body still hasn't been found.
A spokesman at the Public Defender's Office, which represents Ebron, said they had no comment Tuesday night.
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