Defense motions mount in Ebron case
Lawyers want to limit information from case being given to public
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The lawyers for Ruben Ebron, the prime suspect in the disappearance of 21-month-old Lonzie Barton, want the judge in the case to issue a gag order and block the release of discovery material to the media.
All three local TV news stations, including News4Jax, and the Florida Times-Union have already submitted open records requests for the discovery material, which includes videotaped statements given to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the Department of Children and Families by Ebron and Lonna Barton, Lonzie's mother.
In the motion for the protective order that would block the discovery material release, Ebron's attorney, Al Perkins, claims that the case is being tried in the media before it's heard in the courtroom.
"This is a highly publicized case which has already received extensive pretrial publicity," Perkins wrote. "Publication of additional discovery materials could result in an inability to seat a fair and impartial jury in Duval County."
Perkins requested the judge to "restrict the release of specific discovery material to the media" and also wrote that "a change of venue would be sufficient to ensure a fair and impartial jury."
In the gag order motion, Ebron's lawyers reference many statements made by JSO Chief Tom Hackney, calling them inflammatory.
"JSO is disseminating prejudicial statements in more than a dozen videos concerning this case on YouTube, where they have received thousands of views," the motion says.
Ebron's lawyers are asking that the parties be ordered not to make any statements about the facts of the case, the evidence, Ebron and Barton's credibility, Ebron's guilt or innocence, statements made by Barton, or statements made about additional charges being filed.
"They're common when you're talking about these type of murder cases," said Rhonda Peoples-Waters, a defense attorney who is not affiliated with the case. "It's certainly to a heightened level when you have the amount of information that has been disseminated in this case, even early on when we got so much information from JSO. I think that's why in this case, the defense has made sure to be very specific and ask for maybe more than they normally would ask for."
Judge Marianne Aho will decide on the defense motions at a future hearing. A date for that hearing is expected to be set Monday.
On Tuesday, Aho barred Ebron from contact with his parents, who are on the witness list for the case.
Ebron's lawyers had argued that they should not be forced to be present whenever Ebron's parents wish to contact him.
"If we're talking with our client, and Ebron's parents are making statements to him, we have no control over what he says. There could be client/attorney issues. It's just not a good idea to interpose that mix," Perkins said.
Aho said that if it was such an issue, she would take the parents out of the equation, since they are listed as witnesses in the case being formed by the state attorney, denying all contact between Ebron and his parents.
Ebron is facing two child neglect charges and a charge of lying to police in connection to Lonzie's disappearance. He is also charged with possession of a handcuff key, introducing contraband into the jail and conspiracy to escape. All five are felonies.
He remains in jail without bond.
Aho also said that a corrections officer must be posted outside of the meeting room any time Ebron meets with his attorneys, a ruling Ebron's defense team is unhappy about.
They don't believe the room is soundproof and said the officer's presence doesn't allow for a confidential meeting, which violates attorney/client privilege.
A spokesperson for the State Attorney's Office said that JSO is not listening in to the conversations and that the conversations are still confidential.
Police have said Ebron was the last person to see Lonzie alive before he reported the toddler missing July 24. Police said they believe Ebron murdered the toddler.
Ebron could face at least 50 years in prison if convicted of all charges against him. The trial will begin as soon as a jury is chosen. Jury selection is scheduled for Dec. 7.
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