Ruben Ebron Pleads Guilty To Manslaughter In Lonzie Barton Case
Ruben Ebron pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter in the death of Lonzie Barton on Friday morning. He will serve up to 20 years in prison on the first-degree manslaughter, plus charges of child neglect, lying to police and tampering with evidence.
Prosecutors said the autopsy of remains found weeks ago in woods off Interstate 295 near Bayard have been tentatively identified as Lonzie, who was in Ebron's care when he disappeared on July 24.
Assistant State Attorney Rich Mantei said Lonzie drowned in a bathtub after Ebron and the boy's mother, Lonna Barton, locked the boy in a room. They found him face down in the water. Police believe Ebron staged the boy's disappearance, which lead on a massive, week-long search.
In court Friday morning, the public defender read a letter from Ebron in which he said, "I'd like to apologize" to his family, Lonzie and the toddler's mother, Lonna Barton, who was Ebron's girlfriend when the boy disappeared: "None of you deserved the public scrutiny that this brought."
... it happened and both Lonna and I were both involved. This was a tragic accident made far worse by our horrible decision making. All we can do now is pay for the mistakes we have made and hopefully learn from them."
Lonna Barton pleaded guilty in January to charges of child neglect and lying to police. She has not yet been sentenced.
Ebron's father, William Ebron, said he told his son six months ago that if something happened and they panicked, "come clean now and we can do something about it."
"They've got an ultimate judge they've got to answer, too. They've got to come to terms with their maker," William Ebron Sr. said. "This child deserved better."
Judge Borello sentenced Ebron to 20 years on the aggravated manslaughter charge, five years on the child neglect count, five years on the tampering with evidence charge and an one year on the lying to police count. All sentences would be served concurrently, so the 32-year-old Ebron's total time in prison would be 20 years.
The day that Ebron's trial was slated to begin last month he waived his right to a speedy trial, essentially postponing the trial indefinitely. Hours later, Jacksonville police confirmed that Ebron had led them to the wooded area where the remains of a child were found.
The forensic findings of Lonzie’s death and Ebron's statement could present new legal challenges for his mother, who has said from the beginning that her son was alive when she went to work as an adult dancer the night of July 23.
“If forensics and the examination that’s being performed shows us something completely different from a time standpoint — we all presume that child was alive that night until he was not, but if we start to find out that this pre-dates that incident and that she has lied as well, (State Attorney Angela) Corey will have on her hands not only what to charge Ebron with, but also if (Barton) will face anything,” legal observer Gene Nichols said.
Nichols said it's likely that an agreement is in the works for Ebron, but that Judge Mark Borello wouldn'tt go through with it until he gets more information about what really happened to Lonzie.
"The only reason this case goes to trial is if the medical examiner finds something totally different than what Ebron had said happened and he faces a charge that is much more substantial than what he has now," Nichols said.
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