Gag order withdrawn in Ruben Ebron case
Lawyer: Suspect in toddler's disappearance has repeatedly contacted media
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The prime suspect in the disappearance of toddler Lonzie Barton may have hurt his own case by attempting to contact the media.
Ruben Ebron appeared in court Monday at a brief hearing where Judge Mark Borello scheduled several motions in the case to be heard Friday.
In a surprise move Monday, Ebron's attorneys withdrew their motion for a gag order that would have prevented everyone associated with the case from speaking about it publicly.
Lawyers not associated with the case said it's because Ebron's attorneys have found it nearly impossible to muzzle Ebron himself.
"Presumably, Mr. Perkins withdrew this motion because his client has been contacting the media himself and so has the family," attorney Gene Nichols said.
Ebron has placed collect calls from the Duval County jail to The Florida Times-Union at least three times in the past week, and he's contacted other publications as well. His lawyers originally said the media publicity would hinder Ebron from getting a fair trial, but according to Nichols, the public's opinion could ultimately help him.
"Public opinion can also sway different thoughts and beliefs and feelings," Nichols said. "The public is going to be who ends up sitting on this jury, so when the evidence or lack of evidence is released to the public, the public will think maybe his client did not commit this crime."
A defense motion to restrict the state from releasing evidence to the public before trial was set to be heard on Friday morning. Ebron's attorneys believe it will be difficult to find an impartial jury because of all of the pre-trial publicity.
Borello will also hear arguments Friday on the prosecution's motion to consolidate the cases and try Ebron and Lonna Barton, the mother of Lonzie, together since they both are "charged with a series of actions in the neglect of the same minor child, and with subsequent behavior undertaken in an effort to conceal said neglect."
Nichols said proving the two should be tried together could be difficult, because the crimes they are accused of occurred at different times.
"There's still a question as to whether the neglect charges that both of them are facing happened at the same time," Nichols said. "Is this a difference between neglect between one day or days later, and we don't know the answer to that yet."
Lonna Barton waived her appearance in the courtroom Monday.
Ebron's mother said Ebron would have waived his appearance as well, but he didn't because the courtroom is the only time he gets to see his parents after a judge barred their jail visits.
Ebron is also charged with possession of a handcuff key, introducing contraband into the jail and conspiracy to escape. He could face 50 years in jail if convicted of all of the charges against him.
Police say Barton left her son in the care of Ebron and went to work the night of July 23, even though Lonzie had apparent head injuries and fluid running out of his ears. Ebron reported to police that Lonzie was abducted early on the morning of July 24. Police believe Ebron is lying and is responsible for the toddler's disappearance.
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