Florida man pleads guilty to manslaughter in toddler’s death

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) – The man suspected of being involved in the death of a Florida toddler pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter on Friday, weeks after he led authorities to the child’s remains and said the boy drowned in a bathtub while he and the mother had sex.

William Ruben Ebron Jr., 32, got a plea deal after he led investigators to Lonzie Barton’s remains, which were found last month amid discarded tires and trash in a wooded area in Jacksonville.

Under the deal, Ebron will receive a 20-year prison sentence.

“There was only one person who could lead us to Lonzie’s grave. Just one person who could make sure Lonzie was recovered from an unmarked, isolated, shallow grave and brought home to his loved ones,” State Attorney Angela Corey said at a news conference.

Lonzie’s mother, Lonna Lauramore Barton, 26, has previously pleaded guilty to child neglect. Prosecutors would not comment on whether further charges were forthcoming.

In a letter, Ebron said he and Lauramore Barton, whom he was dating at the time, bear responsibility for the toddler’s death.

“This was a tragic accident made far worse by our horrible decision making. All we can do now is pay for the mistakes we have made and hopefully learn from them,” Ebron wrote.

Ebron said the boy drowned while unattended, but the remains were too decomposed for the medical examiner to determine a cause of death, Corey said.

Lonzie was 21 months old in July when Ebron reported him missing. He told police he had left the boy alone in his car for a few minutes to retrieve something from the house. He said when he returned, Lonzie and the car were gone.

But police later released surveillance video that showed Ebron’s car driving past the camera, and later a man they believed to be Ebron running back the other direction.

For months Ebron denied involvement in Lonzie’s disappearance, but after Lauramore Barton pleaded guilty last month and agreed to testify against him, things changed.

An emotional Ebron led a convoy of investigators down a long, dark road to a wooded area, Corey said.

After searching for hours, an investigator saw a bone sticking out of a tire in a pile of garbage. There was evidence that the boy’s ribs had been broken previously and had healed, and there was some damage to his skull, according to the medical examiner’s report.

Ebron also pleaded guilty to child neglect, giving false information to police and tampering with evidence.

He apologized to his parents and to Lonzie.

“I apologize most of all to Lonzie Arin Ray Barton,” he wrote. “We failed to provide you the care you needed and I failed to protect you from the harm of others.”

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