As the man sentenced last week to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated manslaughter enters the Florida Department of Corrections system, the team that prosecuted him gave new details of Lonzie Barton's disappearance and death.
Ruben Ebron, 32, was formally convicted Friday of manslaughter, child abuse, lying to police and tampering with evidence in connection with the death of 21-month-old Lonzie Barton. He was transferred Thursday from the Duval County jail to the state's Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler, where is expected to remain for three to five weeks before being assigned to a prison where he will spend the next two decades.
His DOC mug show was released Friday.
Just after last week's sentencing hearing, Assistant State Attorney Rich Mantei said the toddler drowned in a bathtub after Ebron and the boy's mother, Lonna Barton, locked the boy in a room while they had sex. Ebron said they found him face down in the water.
On Thursday, Mantei, along with Assistant State Attorneys London Kite and Lee Smith, said down to answer more in-depth questions about the case. He was asked if he believed Ebron's story.
"What I can believe is pretty irrelevant. It's what I can prove that really matters," Mantei said. "His version of it was that the child had had some medical complications. They were aware of it. He and Lonna argued about it and then decided they were going to make up. Their version of that was that they went upstairs to their bedroom and put the children (Lonzie and his 5-year-old sister) downstairs to watch television. According to Mr. Ebron, while they were engaged, Lonzie came to the door and they essentially shut the door, turned him around and kept him out of the room ... and when they were done and came back out, they found him."
"The fact that he says he performed the CPR in the bedroom matched with the evidence," Kite said.
The two prosecutors said Barton has not given a similar account of the events, other than confirming the couple had sex before she went to work that night, leaving her children in Ebron's care.
Ebron, who didn't cooperate with investigators for six months after Lonzie disappeared and he was charged, led a convoy of 20 to 30 police and prosecutors to property in Bayard the night before he was set to go on trial.
"Before we even got there, Ruben Ebron was emotional," Kite said.
"It was surely a moment that I'll never forget: Walking through those woods and knowing that we felt like we were in the right place," Mantei said. "There was a lot of emotion, I think; a lot of people who have been working this case from the very beginning."
The next morning, shortly after the sun came up, detectives found Lonzie's body buried in a trash pile.
Within the hour, potential jurors for Ebron's trial were dismissed and the plea deal was on.
Asked if he thought Ebron cared about Lonzie, Mantei said, "He did, after all, take us there that night. And he didn't have to."
Because Lonzie's body had been there so long, the medical examiner couldn't determine a cause of death, so prosecutors and and police agreed to accept a deal where Ebron would plead guilty to the four charged in exchange for the 20-year sentence.
The deal angered many people in the community who wanted Ebron to go to prison for life. Mantei said that wasn't possible based on the evidence they had.
"Justice would be Lonzie home right now somewhere playing with his toys," said Smith. "Have we done the best job that we could do? I think absolutely that is the case."
At Friday's sentencing hearing, a letter from Ebron apologizing to all involved was read aloud in the courtroom:
We failed to provide you the care you needed and I failed to protect you from the harm of others. I have and will continue to ask for forgiveness for what I did and for what I failed to do."
Ebron was given credit on his 20-year sentence for 196 days he was credited for the time confined since his arrest on July 24, 2015 -- the day he reported Lonzie missing.
COURT DOCUMENT: Ruben Ebron commitment to custody form
News4Jax learned that charges against Ebron related to an escape attempt after his July arrest were dropped as part of the plea agreement.
Ebron also faces a violation of parole charge in Baker County related to a previous drug charge. It's unclear if or when he will face that charge.
Barton, 26, pleaded guilty last month to child neglect and lying to police. She is to be sentenced later this month.
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