Jacksonville, FL - More than six months after Lonzie Barton's disappearance, the man responsible admits to his role.
Ruben Ebron has pled guilty to aggravated manslaughter of a child, child neglect, lying to police, and tampering with evidence. He received a 20 year sentence at Florida State Prison for the manslaughter charge, and lesser sentences for the other charges which will run concurrent.
The facts included in the plea give new insight in to the circumstances around the toddler’s death. Prosecutors say Ebron and the toddler’s mother, Lonna Lauramore Barton, turned away their attention of the toddler in order to engage in sexual relations. There was a full bathtub in the apartment, and the couple later found Lonzie face down in the water. Ebron says he panicked and staged an abduction, while Lauramore Barton went to work.
Neither tried to get medical attention for Lonzie. The toddler had additionally been in medical distress in the days leading up to his death, but he did not get medical attention at that time either. JSO Chief Tom Hackney says a key reason they put such a big focus on finding the toddler’s body was because he needed responsible adults in his life.
“This is a little boy who lived a tragic, tragic life and died a tragic, tragic death,” Hackney says.
Hackney says getting a guilty verdict without finding Lonzie's body would have been "missing the mark". Prosecutors had actually turned down a prior plea agreement put forward by Ebron, but say when he finally offered to lead them to the body, that was the tipping point.
“There was only one person that could lead us to Lonzie’s grave, just one person that could make sure Lonzie was recovered from an unmarked, isolated, shallow grave and brought home to his loved ones and a proper resting place,” says State Attorney Angela Corey.
Lonzie’s mother pled guilty last month to child neglect and lying to police, and could face up to five years in prison. Corey says, at this time, they are not looking at more charges against her because that case would not be based on evidence.
“The problem with these cases- when they’re both lying, and it’s a finger pointing contest liked these cases tend to be- what pulls us out, what saves law enforcement and the prosecution, at the physical findings that refute what either or both are saying. We did not have that in this scase, there was not a shred of tissue left on this child’s remains that can be analyzed.
Corey says they’re still analyzing the impact of Ebron’s information, but there’s not much else they can do on Lonzie’s charges. She says Ebron faces steeper charges because of evidence dealing with the aftermath of the boy’s death. The State Attorney’s Office will work with other law enforcement agencies pursuing other charges against Lauramore Barton, including the Baker County Sheriff’s Office, which has a pending drug case.
In a statement prepared by Ebron read in court by his lawyer today, Ebron apologized to his parents, the community, and "most of all" Lonzie, saying his life was cut to short. He calls the death a “tragic accident” and says he made “horrible decisions” afterward, but all he can do now is pay for his mistakes.
Ruben Ebron's father says his son panicked, but is not a “baby killer”.
“He and Lonna crossed a line with me, because- I told them- this is six months and that baby didn’t deserve this, so they’ve got to get right with God,” says William Ebron Sr.
He hopes that, after 20 years in prison, his son will get on a better path, but he also wants to see Lauramore Barton face more charges for her role.
“We’ve got three families that are totally affected and linked forever because of tragedy,” Ebron Sr. says.
He further apologized to the Lauramore and Barton families for what his son did, and says he's thankful for the hard work of JSO in this case.
Friday's plea came after the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office says Ebron led them to remains in the Bayard area in January. We’re told Lauramore Barton’s decision to enter a plea- and testify against Ebron- led to him changing his position, but Hackney says there was also a change in Ebron as a person.
“The Ruben Ebron that I saw out there in a jumpsuit, a pair of socks, and a pair of slides, fighting through ankle-deep water to find that little boy that night- that was the Ruben that I wanted to see from the first day,” Hackney says.
Preliminary information indicates the remains are Lonzie, however because they were in the elements for months the exact cause of death hasn’t been determined. Police describe the remains as skeletal, and we’re told they were found under a stack of tires.
"Not all of Lonzie's bones were recovered, but those that were found showed signs of prior injury like healing fractured ribs,” Corey says.
Hackney confirmed DCF has previously investigated that home, but declined to give further details on those investigations.
The remains were found miles outside of the areas JSO had searched, and in hindsight, Corey says they believe they never would have found them without Ebron’s assistance.
Lonzie was 21-months-old in July when Ebron- who was Lauramore Barton’s boyfriend at the time- called police to say his car had been stolen with the child inside, leading JSO to initiate an Amber Alert. Police found the car a short distance away, but there was no sign of the child. Investigators at the time said Ebron was lying about the abduction and car theft and that he likely knew the child's whereabouts.