JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The prime suspect in the disappearance of 21-month-old Lonzie Barton pleaded not guilty Monday to two counts of child neglect and one count of lying to police.
William Ruben Ebron Jr. was the boyfriend of Lonzie's mother and is believed to be the last person who saw the toddler alive.
Ebron, 32, was charged with two counts of child neglect after Lonzie's disappearance more than three weeks ago. An additional charge of giving false information to police was added Friday.
State of Florida vs. William Ruben Ebron Jr.
Monday morning, Ebron was in an orange jump suit and shackles as a judge formally read the charges against him. He pleaded not guilty. A pretrial hearing was set for Sept. 2.
Ebron will remain in jail on $100,000 bond. Prosecutors said if Ebron was able to post bond, authorities would want to make sure the money was from legitimate sources, not the proceeds of drug sales.
Ebron's mother, Wanda Ebron, said her son might have a criminal record, but he's not a murderer and he did not harm Lonzie.
Ebron's mother said her son might have a criminal record, but she said he's not a murderer, and did not harm Lonzie Barton.
She said Ruben Ebron has three children of his own who miss him terribly, and she said she spoke with Lonzie's mother, who's found a new way to profess her love for Ruben Ebron.
"She loves him and will stick by him, and she has a long, big tattoo (of his name) that police have asked (her) to cover," Wanda Ebron said. "She said no, (because) that's a part of her life. They want her to say one thing, and she won't believe anything they said."
Wanda Ebron said police can't be trusted themselves.
"Murder is very important, and they keep saying they have so much. Well, if they have so much, why are you playing around with menial charges (like) lying to the police," Wanda Ebron said. "I could say the police are lying. What laws are there to have them challenge their veracity. Nothing."
Prosecutors also told the judge that Ruben Ebron attempted to profit from Lonzie's disappearance by asking media outlets to be paid for interviews for his account of what happened the night the boy disappeared.
On July 24, Ruben Ebron called 911 to report that Lonzie (pictured) was in his car that was stolen from the Ravenwood Apartments on Old Kings Road in the Southside. Within minutes, his 1995 Honda Civic was found four blocks away, but Lonzie was not in it.
Hundreds of officers searched the neighborhood. K-9s and helicopters were used as well. Later that evening, Ruben Ebron was arrested on the child neglect charges.
The next day, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said Ruben Ebron admitted to using cocaine before reporting the boy missing. Investigators said they no longer believed his story.
An intense, 10-day search for the toddler ultimately covered 40 square miles and over 300 bodies of water.
With Ruben Ebron still not cooperating with police and sticking to the car-theft story in a newspaper interview, the Sheriff's Office released surveillance video of Ebron's Civic going down the street where it was found, then a man they claim is Ebron, running from the scene minutes before Ebron made the 911 call to report that his car was stolen with Lonzie inside.
That same day, investigators worked with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to cancel the Amber Alert for Lonzie. Investigators then said they were working on building a murder case against Ebron, even though the toddler's body had not been found.
An ex-girlfriend of Ebron now claims Ebron raped her in his apartment earlier this summer while Lonzie, his sister and the victim's three children were home. The woman told police that Ebron had also sexually battered her last November.