Custody hearing held for Lonzie Barton's sister

Mother, Lonna Barton, in jail on charges of child neglect, lying to police

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A custody hearing was held Thursday morning for Lonna Barton's 5-year-old daughter, while Barton remains in jail on charges of child neglect and lying to police.

The girl remains in the custody of her grandmother, where she has been for several weeks after Lonzie's disappearance. Duval County family court Judge David Gooding appointed a guardian ad litem to represent the girl's interests. The guardian is part of a state group assigned to help children in court cases.

News4Jax is not naming the little girl, who was at the courthouse for the hearing. During the hearing, the judge was told that the girl has been seeing a therapist to help with the trauma she has endured.

"I really need the therapist's recommendations," Gooding said. "My note to myself was to talk about what sort of trauma intervention (the child) is receiving. What are we doing to help her?"

The girl is set to begin kindergarten on Monday in Baker County. Her grandmother, Debra Lauramore, told the judge that she worked in the Baker County school system for over 20 years and is prepared to help the child start school.

"Thank you for being there. It's so important that children, when they do get removed from their biological parents, that they have someone that is familiar," Gooding said to Lauramore. "The government is a poor substitute for a parent. Children need arms to hold them, ears to listen to them and a heart that loves them. The government has none of those things. So we're always glad to get children with a relative for the sake of the child."

DOCUMENT: Lonna Barton arrest report
UNCUT VIDEO: Lonna Barton first appearance 

Gooding approved the request from the attorney for the state that the girl's therapist be required to approve any visitation that might happen at the jail. The Department of Children and Families requested supervised visitation for both Lonna Barton and her estranged husband, Chris Barton, who was not in court for the hearing.

News4Jax spoke with family law attorney Dale Westling, who's not associated with the case, but he said chances are, Judge Gooding will monitor the criminal case against Lonna Barton. 

"Certainly the judge is also going to focus on a temporary custody arrangement while mom is in jail. That would most likely go to dad, if he is suitable," Westling said.

Gooding set a case-planning conference for the custody case. He said the conference will allow Lonna Barton and her attorney to sit down with Chris Barton and his attorney and DCF and the guardian ad litem to come up with a custody agreement for the girl.

Judge David Gooding presides over a custody hearing in Duval County family court.

The conference was set for 11:30 a.m. Sept. 16.

Westling said they're an advocacy group for a child involved in any form of litigation-- that includes criminal cases. Their purpose is to act in the best interest of the child.

"That makes the ad litem a party to the lawsuit. They're required to be notified of any litigation or any motions that are filed. It's really been a program that has worked out well for children," said Westling.

In the meantime, Lonna Barton remains in jail awaiting her arraignment on Sept. 9. She is being held on $50,006 bond. Lonna Barton's lawyer told Gooding that a motion for bond reduction is being filed.

During Thursday's hearing, there was no discussion of the girl's brother, Lonzie, or what happened to him or why Lonna Barton was arrested.

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Chief Tom Hackney said he believes that Lonna Barton has been lying to police since the beginning of the investigation into her son's disappearance on July 24.

Hackney said the child neglect charge against Lonna Barton dates from July 23, when she found a bruise on the back of Lonzie's head that he suffered while Lonna Barton's boyfriend, Ruben Ebron, was watching him. Ebron is the man who was last seen with the child.

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo ofLonna Lauramore Barton

Hackney said that after finding the bruise, Lonna Barton (pictured) also found yellow fluid coming from Lonzie's ears, and she said the toddler kept vomiting.

"Despite being in an argument over a bruise and how it occurred without a satisfactory answer, she left Lonzie and the 5-year-old in the care and custody and control of someone who may have done something to her child while she went to work at Wacko's," Hackney said.

Police said Lonna Barton also knew that Ebron sold and kept drugs in the home where Lonzie lived.

"Lonna (Barton) knew Ebron kept, used and sold narcotics. She knew he was a drug dealer," Hackney said. 

Hackney said the truth began to come out during the investigation, and investigators discovered that Lonna Barton had been lying to police all along.

"Lonna is obviously a liar. When confronted with Ruben Ebron's name, she initially said she didn't know him. She gave repeated false statements to investigators and then later she admitted that she had made these false statements," Hackney said. "This is the most critical time of what we were beginning to do. We said all along that the house of cards that Ruben was building with that lie was not helping the investigation. It was leading us away from where we should have been looking. Lonna (Barton) was not assisting investigators either when she said she didn't know the man who she put in control and care of her children."

Hackney said Lonna Barton went to the police department on Tuesday to speak with investigators.

"She actually came down here on her own tonight (Tuesday), not aware that she was going to be arrested or that there was an arrest warrant out for her," Hackney said. "She's cooperative to this point, and what she believes and what she doesn't believe, I'm not going to try to put myself into her head. Frankly, I wouldn't want to be there."

Ebron is facing one charge of lying to police and two charges of child neglect. He pleaded not guilty to those charges and is being held on $100,000 bond. His first day of pretrial is scheduled for Sept. 2.

It's been more than three weeks since Lonzie disappeared from his family's apartment, on the Southside, and police still haven't found a trace of the boy.

William Ruben Ebron, the boyfriend watching Lonzie when he disappeared, is arrested late July 24 on two counts of child neglect.

Ebron (pictured), who was watching the child and his 5-year-old sister, first claimed that the toddler was abducted when his car was stolen with Lonzie inside. Hackney countered the story Ebron told by releasing home surveillance video showing Ebron ditching his car in the same spot where it was found less than a mile from the apartment complex. Detectives are now holding him on child neglect charges but believe that he murdered Lonzie.

"We are still full steam ahead in making a murder case for Ruben Ebron," Hackney said. 

The reward for information leading to Lonzie's recovery is now $13,200, thanks to private donors.

That's in addition to up to $4,000 for information leading to an arrest in the case. A tipster with the right information could get a grand total of $17,200.

The number for Crime Stoppers is 1-866-845-TIPS. You don't have to give your name to get paid. To submit a tip, check the status of a tip or donate to Crime Stoppers, go to www.fccrimestoppers.com.


About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.