JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Lonna Barton, the mother of the toddler whose remains were found in Bayard in January, was sentenced Friday to five years in prison on charges related to her son Lonzie's disappearance.
Barton, 26, who pleaded guilty in January to charges of child neglect and giving false information to a law enforcement officer, was sentenced to five years for child neglect, a third-degree felony, and another year for lying to police, a misdemeanor. The sentences will run concurrently.
Barton's attorney, Kevin Carlisle, had asked Judge Mark Borello for a sentence of one year in Duval County Jail with credit for time served, because he said Barton was cooperative with investigators and testified against Ruben Ebron. Barton was granted 169 days' credit for time served.
Prosecutor Rich Mantei said Barton has the right to file an appeal in 30 days.
"There is no way that you could say any term of years is ever justice for the death of an infant child, a helpless child," Mantei said. "Justice would be Lonzie still with us. Justice would be that child in a loving family. Justice would be that child never having to go through all the things that he had to go through."
During the sentencing hearing, Barton's attorney said she made up a pregnancy story while she was in jail, hoping that Ebron learning the news would lead to him saying where to find Lonzie's body.
There were rumors that Barton was pregnant, but lawyers later said that was never the case.
Mantei called it a charade and said Barton acted in her own self-interest from the start.
Ebron eventually did lead investigators to the boy's remains in a wooded area of Bayard, shortly after Barton changed her plea to guilty and testified against Ebron in a pretrial hearing.
DOCUMENT: Lonna Barton's guilty plea
Ebron, Barton's boyfriend at the time of Lonzie's disappearance last July, pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter in the boy's death in exchange for a 20-year prison sentence. In his plea agreement, Ebron, 32, confessed that the boy drowned in a bathtub after he and Barton locked him in a room while they had sex.
Barton's lawyer, Kevin Carlisle, previously said that Barton left Lonzie -- who was 21 months old at the time -- with Ebron and went to her job as an exotic dancer on the night the boy disappeared. Police said Ebron claimed that night that his car was stolen with the boy inside.
Mantei said he didn't want to speculate about Barton's motivation for entering her plea agreement.
“I can tell you that she came forward. She offered her statement, and she fulfilled her agreement. But her motivations for doing that, I think those are as varied possibly as much as some of the other circumstances in this case,” Mantei said.
Mantei said part of the frustration for him is that no definitive truth about what happened to Lonzie is coming out.
“When you don't have the ability to do that, because people lie, withhold, delay for months before they come forward -- (and) even when they come forward it conflicts with other things -- it's frustrating, but I think what's even more frustrating is when you have a child dead who should be with us,” Mantei said.
Mantei said in court that there were details of Lonzie's death that he couldn't discuss because the autopsy report is not complete. He said Barton could still be affected by that information.
“There are ongoing matters involving the death of Lonzie Barton, and beyond that, I really shouldn't be getting into, because, as you say, they're ongoing,” Mantei said. “A lot of people want to speculate and guess and say that things ought to happen, and all I can say is I don't want to jeopardize anything that might happen, so I'm not going to get into it.”
Barton's neglect charge stemmed from before Lonzie disappeared. Prosecutors claim that Barton and Ebron didn't take proper care of the boy, didn't get him medical treatment when he was sick and exposed him to lifestyles involving drugs and other illegal activities.
Mantei said Friday that to demonize Ruben Ebron alone understates the point that if not for Barton's choices, Lonzie would never have been around Ebron. He also discussed pictures found on Ebron's phone that showed Lonzie with multiple injuries, including head injuries and an abdominal bruise that the state's experts said could have potentially been life-threatening.
“Unfortunately there were a number of folks who would have had exposure to Lonzie Barton around the time those injuries were inflicted,” Mantei said. “If you're asking me can I pinpoint any one injury to any one person, I don't think the evidence supports being able to do that.”
State Attorney Angela Corey has worked closely on the case from the beginning.
“Baby deaths, as hard as they are to handle, they are difficult cases and it all hinges on the evidence. We did not have much evidence on Lonna Barton; therefore, she’s only looking at a maximum of five years,” Corey said Thursday night before the sentencing. “People can’t compare one baby death to another. Sometimes if the proof is overwhelming, we can get a life sentence for first-degree murder, and sometimes like in poor little Lonzie’s case, the proof just isn’t there, and we do the best we can.”
Barton's parents were in court Friday, but had no comment after the hearing.
Her attorney said that they were originally going to testify, but they decided not to do so, choosing instead to be there in support of their daughter.
Barton’s attorney also declined comment after the hearing.
Barton is also facing drug charges in Baker County. Pretrial hearings are scheduled next month in that case, and her trial is expected to get underway in April. She was transferred to the Baker County Jail after Friday's sentencing in Duval County.
Barton and her husband, Chris Barton, were arrested Sept. 16 after an undercover drug deal at a Baker County motel.
Ebron's parents call Barton's sentence 'unfair'
William Ebron Sr. and Wanda Ebron, Ruben Ebron's parents, spoke out Friday about their feelings on Barton's sentence and how said they believe that it was racially motivated.
"It's not equal. I think she knows more. I think she saw more," William Ebron said. "I'm just disgusted. I've been disgusted from the beginning. There's a child missing, a child that is gone that will never be back.”
"What happened to Lonzie is very sad. It's a pill I cannot swallow," Wanda Ebron said.
From the start of the case, the Ebrons have stood behind their son, and they said they were surprised when they learned that he was responsible for the death of the little boy.
But now they say that Barton is equally involved.
"Lonna is no innocent person," Wanda Ebron said. "She knew the baby was dead when she went to work. ... If you have to ask me if that was a fair sentence, you already know."
Ebron's parents said they still have many questions about what really happened to Lonzie and why their son and Barton lied about the case from the start, but they think Barton's sentence is unfair.
Wanda Ebron said she built a trust with Barton, but that trust turned into a lie, and she was upset to hear the picture that Barton's attorney painted of her on Friday.
“It was like he was talking about somebody else, like Mother Teresa,” Wanda Ebron said.
Wanda Ebron insinuated that race was a factor in Barton's sentence, but Mantei refuted that assertion.
“To suggest that the outcome of this case and the charges in this case have anything to do with the race of any of the parties, frankly, it's fraudulent, phony and offensive,” Mantei said. “The statement that she got an American Express deal because of the race of the defendant in this case, that sounds to me like people who are understandably upset.
“I understand that they are upset, but to lash out in that way...”
Mantei said the state has to go with the evidence on hand, and the only evidence that they had was Ebron's word, which is why the prosecution went with Barton's deal.