Child’s death revealed squalor

Children were living in deplorable conditions at the Barreto house.

Children were living in deplorable conditions at the Barreto house.

By Michaela Gibson Morris and Chris Kieffer Daily Journal At 2 years old, Ena Barreto couldn’t tell anyone about the horrific conditions she and her siblings endured. But her death from a head injury on May 19, 2008, led authorities to discover the abuse and neglect of Ena, her siblings and hundreds of animals on County Road 87 outside of New Albany. “In 26 years (in law enforcement), it is still the worst conditions I’ve seen children survive under,” said Union County Sheriff’s Department investigator Roger Garner. The children were in beds and cribs without mattresses and in a trailer that had no electricity, running water or air conditioning, Garner remembered. Dogs had run of that trailer, and the floors were full of feces and urine. A puppy had died in the children’s room and been left to rot to a skeleton. Authorities took eight children into protective custody that day – six who like Ena were adopted from Guatemala and two children born to Janet Barreto. The Tupelo-Lee Humane Society, In Defense of Animal, and Mississippi State University veterinarians took charge of 222 dogs and 10 Persian cats. “They said it was the worst one they had ever seen,” said then-Tupelo-Lee Humane Society director Debbie Hood, who helped with the animal rescue. “First of all was the smell, the stench of breeders in their cages with their puppies and sitting in feces. It was in a small enclosed area, and you couldn’t breathe. The ones that were outdoors, the cages were busted, some of their legs would fall through the bottom, the heat was unbearable.” In the five years that Janet and Ramon Barreto have sought to evade the manslaughter, abuse and neglect charges, the children and animals rescued from them have done well, authorities said. Seven of the eight children taken into custody after Ena’s death, plus another child born to Janet Barreto before she and Ramon became fugitives, have been adopted. An American-born child the Barretos adopted before sending to live with a family where she was abused also was adopted. “They’re all thriving,” Garner said. “The good Lord put those kids where they needed to be.” The oldest child, Marainna Torres, was 17 at the time of Ena’s death. She pleaded guilty and went to jail for her part in the death, but authorities stress she suffered from the same neglectful and abusive conditions as her siblings. They say she quietly is building a new life. The animals rescued from the puppy mill also found new lives, Hood said, noting all of them found new homes. Before that day Former Daily Journal reporter Patsy Brumfield combed transcripts of interviews and court testimony to put together a picture of the circumstances that led up to Ena’s death. In 2005, Ramon and Janet Barreto apparently decided they wanted a son. Through 2008, they ended up adopting seven children from Guatemala. Marainna Torres told investigators that inspectors who came to conduct home studies only visited the first doublewide trailer. They never made it to the back trailer where the children stayed or to the cages that housed hundreds of dogs. Torres said the Barretos used credit cards to acquire the children, ranging from $615 to $25,000, depending on their physical conditions. Torres’ statement claims the young children rarely were bathed, were forced to drink hot sauce as punishment and spent hours tied up with duct tape after they “were cutting up.” As for her mother, Torres said maybe once or twice a week Janet Barreto would go to the back of the trailer, where the children stayed in their beds, and gave them “little cakes” she bought on sale at the bakery. Fatal day Her parents required Torres to take care of the children, and on May 19, 2008, it fell to her to carry out a punishment for Ena who had misbehaved during a shopping trip. “My mama told me to take her back there and spank her,” she said about that day in a transcribed statement to investigators. “After I got done spanking her, I threw her in her bed. And she hit pretty hard because there was no mattress. It was plywood. “She landed on her whole body, but she, you could hear it when she hit her head.” “I knew not to tell anybody,” Torres told the investigators. “I was scared. I was scared of her.” On the way to the emergency room with an unresponsive Ena, Torres told investigators that her mother decided they would say Ena fell out of a shopping cart and landed on her head. But the story quickly unraveled as investigators visited the Barreto home and started digging. Torres was initially charged with capital murder. Ramon and Janet Barreto were charged with six counts of child endangerment, three counts of felony child abuse and one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence. The couple spent months in jail, then on Nov. 28, 2008, they posted appearance bonds of $450,000 each. They were free to go home, under restricted conditions. Additional charges of witness tampering were levied against Janet Barreto in connection with a call to Marainna in jail in April 2009. Janet Barreto failed to appear at a May 6, 2009, arraignment, and authorities realized they were no longer in Union County. A year later in 2010, Torres plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to serve five years in prison. She was given credit for time served in the Union County Jail, where she had been since July 2008. At the time, her mother and stepfather were believed to be hiding in Mexico. As part of her plea agreement, Torres agreed to testify against the Barretos. Over the past five years, Third District Attorney Ben Creekmore said he trusted that the Barretos would not be able to remain hidden indefinitely. “Time is on my side, not theirs,” Creekmore said. The case against them has remained active on the criminal docket. “It will be a priority case for us,” Creekmore said. michaela.morris@journalinc.comchris.kieffer@journalinc.com