NEW ALBANY – Wanted: Janet and Ramon Barreto.
The couple apparently slipped away from their Union County home recently and could be in Mexico, where Ramon has family, say the U.S. marshals looking for them.
Ten months ago, a Union County grand jury indicted the Barretos on 10 counts including child endangerment, felony child abuse and manslaughter by culpable negligence.
They were arrested after the May 19, 2008, death of their 2-year-old adopted daughter, Ena. An autopsy revealed she died of severe head and lower body trauma. The Barretos initially claimed she fell from a shopping cart during a trip to Memphis.
Janet, 37, and Ramon, 30, spent six months in the Union County Jail but made bond Nov. 28 at $450,000 each.
“We were worried they would leave after they made bond,” U.S. Marshal Dennis Spencer said Friday.
The Barretos are believed to have left in a van.
Marshal Gale Manning said he’s optimistic they will be found, and a reward is being offered for information leading to their arrest.
District Attorney Ben Creekmore said his office realized they were gone May 6 when they failed to appear for Mrs. Barreto’s arraignment on a new charge of threatening a witness.
Ena Barreto was one of eight children the couple adopted from Guatemala across several years. Mrs. Barreto also gave birth to the couple’s first biological child after their jail release.
Wherever they have gone, none of these children is with them, said Union County Sheriff’s investigator Jimmy Edwards.
He and Creekmore confirmed the children – ranging in age from 3 to 10 – either have been privately adopted or are wards of the state Department of Human Services.
The couple’s trial, originally set for the March term of circuit court, was delayed by discussions about a possible plea deal, Creekmore noted.
“That is off the table now,” he said Friday.
If convicted on all counts, the Barretos face from 50 years to life in prison.
Mrs. Barreto’s biological daughter, now-18-year-old Marainna Torres, admitted in July that she killed Ena in a fit of rage over being left to care for the numerous young children. She awaits sentencing in the Union County Jail.
Edwards said Torres is aware law enforcement is looking for her mother and stepfather, and he doesn’t think Janet Baretto will try to call her daughter.
“This just reinforces that she only cares about herself,” he said.
Creekmore said the new charge against Janet Barreto came after the discovery that she had telephoned Torres in jail and allegedly threatened her daughter if she did not recant her story of how Ena died.
Ashland attorney Anthony Farese, who withdrew as their attorney earlier this week, told a slightly different story, saying Torres called her mother and was advised to tell authorities the truth about what happened to Ena.
Farese said Mrs. Barreto’s latest charge made it impossible for him to defend both her and her husband, since their legal situations were no longer equal.
Josh Rupert, owner of ACME Bail Bonds in Tupelo, was tightlipped about the missing Barretos. His firm backed their appearance bonds, now totaling $910,000.
“We’re looking for them,” is all he said Friday.
If the Barretos do not return to answer the charges against them, ACME will be liable for the full bond to Union County.
Creekmore said they have until Sept. 8 – 180 days – before the bond forfeits.
Meanwhile, a nationwide alert has gone out to law enforcement agencies, and the U.S. Marshals Service is seeking the Barretos with help from the U.S. Immigration amp& Customs Enforcement.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or email@example.com.
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal