Sheriff responds to disturbing details in Lonzie case

Questions raised on why information wasn't released in search for toddler

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A day after hundreds of pages of evidence and hours of recordings were released in the case of toddler Lonzie Barton's death, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said he's reviewing the case and why certain information wasn't released to the public.

Information like the fact that in the days after Lonzie's disappearance, his 5-year-old sister nearly led police to the area where Lonzie's remains were later found.

Detectives even put the girl in a car and encouraged her to lead them to the area where Lonzie was. She directed them to Philips Highway south of the Avenues Mall. She couldn't pinpoint a spot to search, saying only, "Look in the woods," and it was near "the blue house, the green house and purple and pink houses."

"I learned from a couple of different sources that at one point, Lonzie's sister said that they came in to this area, and she identified it because she said there was a dinosaur in the yard, and also a lit fountain," WJXT crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said.

News4Jax found those colorful houses in the Bayard area Wednesday night and learned that while the lit fountain is no longer there, six months ago it sat next to a dinosaur in one front yard.

The homeowner said he had no idea that the dinosaur sculpture was a possible clue in the Lonzie Barton investigation.

"I think if she told police and police (were) here on the street a lot, they should have known to come in this area and search," homeowner Justin Worthen said. "I mean, the dinosaur, it's been here over five to six years."

Lonzie's remains were later found on land about one block away.

So why didn't police let the public know? And could his sister's statements have led investigators to the little boy's body sooner?

Williams said he's trying to find that out.

“We will go back and review, just like we do every case,” Williams said. “It's stuff we will look at. We will take an opportunity to look at all the aspects of this case and that will be part of it. And we will see at what point did we know that and at what point did we decide to not put that out. Why did we decide that?”

Worthen said the dinosaur in his yard is distinctive and well-known and should have been easy to find.

“People come in the middle of the night and they will get on the dinosaur and take pictures with him and play on him,” Worthen said.

Williams said police supervisors are looking into the decisions surrounding the case and trying to find out if anyone dropped the ball in the investigation.

Lonzie's sister's remarks weren't used in court and were not released to the public because investigators said there were credibility issues because of her age and the mental trauma she might have suffered.

She's now staying with her grandmother in Baker County.

Ebron nearly led police to body right away

Two weeks ago, Ruben Ebron pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and other charges, telling prosecutors Lonzie accidentally drowned in a bathtub while he and the boy's mother, Lonna Barton, were having sex, and that he disposed of the body out of fear.

Last month, Ebron led police to Lonzie's skeletal remains in a wooded area off State Road 9B south of Bayard.

In the evidence released this week, details emerged that showed Ebron almost led police to the toddler's body within 24 hours of his disappearance last summer.

DOCUMENT: DNA evidence collected and JSO's original police report on 'kidnapping'

Prosecutors and police say Ebron made up a story that Lonzie was taken when his car was stolen that night.
Among the reports the State Attorney's Office released was one dated July 24, 2015, that showed Ebron almost gave up the body within the first 24 hours.

"Ebron told detectives he wanted to go show them where the victim was. … When Detective Sullivan and Sgt. Coarsey got to Interstate 95 and Philips Highway, Ebron told the detectives that he never said he wanted to take them to where the victim was, rather just show them his 'route.'"

That route took them close to the area where Lonzie's remains were found six months later --- the day Ebron's trial was to begin.

Blood found in Ebron's apartment

In another document released, investigators wrote that a small amount of Lonzie's blood was found on Ebron's clothes, and on the carpet and bedsheets in his apartment. Evidence photos show the inside of that apartment, including the bathtub where Ebron said he found Lonzie dead.

Surveillance video shows Ruben Ebron at a nearby laundromat washing his clothes in the hours before reporting Lonzie missing.

The details of the case shown in the documents are confusing and contradicting, with detectives investigating a number of different scenarios about what happened to Lonzie and who was involved. These records document countless resources and tireless efforts police and prosecutors made to try to get answers.

The investigations included more than 100 pages of cellphone records from Ebron and other potential witnesses plus audio recordings.

There is a lot of discussion in the documents about Ebron's girlfriend and Lonzie's mother, Lonna Barton, but there's no evidence to prove whether she was involved in his death. Records show she made comments that Ebron was a good babysitter and she originally thought that Lonzie's father, Chris Barton, took him.

Lonna Barton still claims she had nothing to do with his disappearance. She has pleaded guilty to child neglect and lying to police and is awaiting sentencing.

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