JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With police saying the remains of toddler Lonzie Barton have likely been found, what’s next for Ruben Ebron and Lonzie's mother, Lonna Barton?
Ebron, the man the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has long called the prime suspect in Lonzie's disappearance, is currently facing charges of child neglect, lying to police and tampering with evidence.
Barton, who was Ebron's girlfriend when Lonzie disappeared last July, pleaded guilty last week to her charges of child neglect and lying to police. She has not yet been sentenced.
Ebron's trial was slated to begin Monday but at the last minute he waived his right to a speedy trial, essentially postponing the trial indefinitely.
Hours later Jacksonville police confirmed that Ebron had led them to a wooded area off U.S. 1 in Bayard where human remains were found. Sheriff Mike Williams later confirmed they believe the remains are Lonzie's.
Legal experts, who are not associated with the Lonzie case, said the community can expect one of two things to happen over the next several days or weeks, and both scenarios depend on what forensic evidence shows about Lonzie's death.
If State Attorney Angela Corey gets evidence to prove Lonzie was killed intentionally, she can charge Ebron with a felony crime, according to defense attorney Gene Nichols, who said the truth now hinges on what the medical examiner finds as the boy's cause of death.
“If there’s going to be a determination that this child suffered what would be a heinous death, something violent, if we find that there have been tremendous skull fractures or something to that extent, the suggestion that this was accidentally done on Ebron’s part potentially goes out the window,” Nichols said.
Nichols said state attorneys had no choice but to believe everything Ebron was telling them, despite the fact that police have said Ebron has been lying to them for the past six months.
“Ebron would have never shown them where the body was unless he had a deal struck,” Nichols said.
Nichols said that Ebron likely told investigators Lonzie's death occurred in his apartment and at the same time revealed where he discarded the toddler's body along a dead-end road.
Nichols said the unknown cause of Lonzie's death led Judge Mark Borello to postpone plea deal proceedings Monday for Ebron.
There were rumblings that Ebron had agreed to plead guilty to aggravated manslaughter and would serve 20 years on the charge before the plea hearing was canceled.
The forensic findings of Lonzie’s death could also present new legal challenges for his mother, who has said from the beginning that her son was alive when she went to work as an adult dancer the night of July 23.
“If forensics and the examination that’s being performed shows us something completely different from a time standpoint -- we all presume that child was alive that night until he was not, but if we start to find out that this pre-dates that incident and that she has lied as well, Corey will have on her hands not only what to charge Ebron with, but also if (Barton) will face anything,” Nichols said.
At a news conference Monday, Corey said new charges are being considered now that the remains have been found, but she declined to say how many or who they would be filed against.
“When a child is in the custody of multiple adults and we don't have a way to time the injuries, it's been a historic problem for us,” Corey said. ““It's very difficult when there is more than one person involved and the cause of death is not immediately known.”
There was some concern that because the wooded area where the remains were found has several mobile homes nearby, the evidence could have been affected.
“It would have been difficult to contaminate the area,” News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said. “It is a wooded area and you don't have people really walking through there, because if someone had seen the body, they would have called in. It's not a place that's traveled by humans.”
A vigil for Lonzie will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Julington Baptist Church at 12740 Snyder St., which is near where the remains were found.