JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Lonna Barton, the mother of the toddler missing since July, testified Friday that her boyfriend, Ruben Ebron sold drugs in front of her children, including the hours before he reported 21-month-old Lonzie missing.
Ebron is set to go on trial Monday on charges of child neglect, lying to police and tampering with evidence in connection Lonzie Barton, who disappeared on July 24 and has not been found.
Barton, the mother of the toddler who pleaded guilty to similar charges on Wednesday, testified that she met Ebron in February of last year and knew she could get cocaine from him. She later moved in with him and witnessed him selling drugs to others, sometimes with her children present.
Giving mostly one-word answers, speaking softly and never looking at the defendant, Barton said Ebron was actively selling drugs July 23 and gave her cocaine before she went to work that night. Within hours, Ebron called 911 and reported Lonzie was missing.
Under cross-examination by the state, Barton was asked what kinds of drugs Ebron sold and confirmed they included cocaine, Roxycodone, Vicodin, morphine and hallucinogens.
Asked about time she lived with Ebron, how many days he did not sell drugs, Barton answered, "None."
Once Barton was dismissed from the courtroom, Ebron's attorney, Assistant Public Defender James Boyle, argued that prior history of drug use or dealing by Ebron before the time Lonzie disappeared was not relevant. Assistant State Attorney Rich Mantei said the fact Ebron freely used and sold drugs with children around was relevant.
As Friday's hearing began, Judge Mark Borello ruled the prosecution can use evidence gathered from Ebron's cellphone. At the end of the day, Borello said he would rule on the admissibility of Ebron's drug history and other pending issues until 10 a.m. Monday. Jury selection is set to begin a half hour later.
News4Jax was told there would be 127 potential jurors in a pool to choose a panel of six jurors and three alternates for the trial.
"That is double the number that we would typically have," said Rhonda Peoples Waters. "Remember, it’s a third-degree felony, so you would typically have about 40 jurors, and each of those jurors is going to have to be individually questioned. Their background will have to be gone into, so that means this process will take at least two to three days."
News4Jax will have crews in the courtroom all next week and report developments in the case. Once a jury is seated, you can watch gavel-to-gavel coverage on News4Jax.com.
Copyright 2016 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.