JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Just over a week after police said the remains of toddler Lonzie Barton were likely found, a hearing in the Ruben Ebron case was postponed until Feb. 9.
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.
Lonna Barton, Lonzie's mother, who was Ebron's girlfriend when the boy disappeared last July, pleaded guilty earlier this month to her charges of child neglect and lying to police. She has not yet been sentenced.
Ebron's trial was slated to begin last week but he waived his right to a speedy trial as jury selection was about to begin, 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.
News4Jax was told a possible plea deal prompted Ebron to lead police to the remains in exchange for a 20-year sentence for aggravated manslaughter, but the trial judge didn't allow the hastily arranged agreement to go forward.
A status hearing in Ebron's case was scheduled Tuesday morning, but at the last minute it was passed for three weeks.
Legal experts not associated with the Lonzie case said the community can expect one of two things to happen over the next few weeks, and both scenarios depend on what forensic evidence shows about Lonzie's death.
An attorney not affiliated with the case said the negotiated deal could cause problems for the prosecution if the case ever goes to trial.
"If he decided not to accept the plea and Ruben Ebron gave this information only on the conditions of a plea, then again the state attorney's office would not be able to legally use that information because Ruben Ebron has already gained his immunity by giving them information that is truthful," said Rhonda Peoples-Waters.
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, (State Attorney Angela) Corey will have on her hands not only what to charge Ebron with, but also if (Barton) will face anything,” another legal observer, Gene Nichols, said.
Nichols said it's likely that an agreement is in the works for Ebron, but that Judge Mark Borello won't go through with it until he gets more information about what really happened to Lonzie.
"The only reason this case goes to trial is if the medical examiner finds something totally different than what Ebron had said happened and he faces a charge that is much more substantial than what he has now," Nichols said.
At a news conference last week, 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.”
Two demonstrators outside the Duval County Courthouse Tuesday carrying signs saying "Justice for Lonzie" and "Not Again" were frustrated by reports of a plea deal in the Ebron case.
"Hopefully when it does -- all the information comes back -- there will be no plea deal. He will not be allowed to accept a plea deal," Patricia Harris said.