By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ALBANY – Ramon and Janet Barreto are still on the lam, one year since they ran from Union County charges related to the 2008 death of their 2-year-old adopted daughter.
Federal, state and local law enforcement have been looking for them ever since, even appealing internationally via “America’s Most Wanted” TV show.
So far, nada. Nothing.
They are believed to be in Mexico, where Ramon has relatives. But actually finding them and bringing them back to Northeast Mississippi is another thing altogether.
“I am still confident that Janet and Ramon Barreto will be brought before the court to face justice,” District Attorney Ben Creekmore said last week.
Their 19-year-old daughter, Marainna Torres, was sentenced last week for her role in the death of the child. During the sentencing, she said she would testify against her mother and stepfather if they were found and put on trial.
The search for the Barretos, a U.S. Marshal’s Service spokesman said in guarded comments, is still active and “we are vigorously pursuing the investigation.”
Tupelo bail bondsman Josh Rupert has a personal financial interest in their whereabouts.
His company, ACME Bail Bonds, is on the hook to the tune of $910,000 for the couple’s bonds.
“It’s been one frustration after another,” Rupert said last week when asked about what’s going on with the hunt for the Barretos.
Ahead of the law
Searchers reportedly have been to Mexico, looking for the pair, but haven’t succeeded because usually the Barretos often move from where they were sighted or from where a tip led law enforcement.
If the Barretos are still gone by the summer, expect to see a rerun of the “America’s Most Wanted” episode, said Jimmy Edwards, Union County Sheriff’s chief deputy.
Two years ago, Janet, 37, and Ramon, 31, were living quietly in two connected manufactured homes just outside New Albany with at least seven young children and Janet’s biological daughter, Marainna.
Then their world turned upside down.
On May 19, 2008, their 2-year-old adopted daughter, Ena, died under suspicious circumstances in a Memphis hospital. Law enforcement investigated and discovered a filthy puppy mill in their backyard.
They also say they found the 824 County Road 87 home in a squalid state.
Initially, the Barretos said Ena had fallen from a shopping cart during a Memphis outing. An autopsy report showed death by blunt trauma to the head and torso.
On July 2, Torres pleaded guilty to killing Ena in a fit of rage. She told the court she struck the child and threw her into a baby bed, causing fatal internal injuries.
On July 25, a Union County grand jury indicted the Barretos on six counts of child endangerment, three counts of felony child abuse and one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence.
The manslaughter charge essentially claimed they put the care of seven young children into Marainna’s hands, which put the teenager into such a severe emotional state that she lost control and killed one of them.
The children – then nearly all under the age of 3 – apparently were adopted from Guatemala.
Because adoption details are legally secret, no one has ever explained how the Barretos came to acquire so many children or why no one apparently ever questioned the wisdom of having so many toddlers in one household with questionable income.
A daughter’s testimony
Friday, Torres was sentenced to 20 years in prison with 15 years suspended. Circuit Judge Andrew Howorth accepted her time served in the Union County jail on the remaining five years. Her attorney, Tim Tucker of Pontotoc, believes it’s possible she could be out of a state prison in about a year.
Her biological father, who lives in Pontotoc County, has offered her shelter and a place to begin her life again.
Last week on the witness stand, Torres promised to testify against her mother and stepfather, when given the opportunity.
She also said her mother wanted to dump the child’s body in a septic tank and deny ever knowing where she was.
If convicted on all the indictment charges, the Barretos face up to life in prison.
Their indictment also claims they tortured three of the children, with one forced to live caged in a closet off and on for nearly six years.
After their arrest, 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. Bondsman Rupert also kept close tabs on them.
Since the Barretos’ arrest, all the children have been in the protective custody of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, and now all have been adopted. Janet gave birth to her second biological child while they were in jail and that child also was taken into MDHS custody.
Their circuit court trial was scheduled during the March 2009 term of court, but it was delayed by discussions of a possible plea deal, Creekmore acknowledges.
If things weren’t bad enough for the Barretos in April 2009, they got worse when Janet reportedly called Marainna in jail and strongly suggested she recant her story or lie about what had happened to Ena.
That call led to an additional criminal charge against Janet – tampering with a witness.
The couple promptly lost their attorney, Tony Farese of Ashland, who said he could not represent them because their situations now were different and constituted a conflict of interest for him.
This new charge also complicated the Barretos’ lives legally. Janet was scheduled for a May 6, 2009, court appearance.
When she failed to appear for her arraignment that day, Creekmore says, his office realized they were gone.
“We were worried they would leave after they made bond,” U.S. Marshal Dennis Spencer said in an interview a week later.
After they ran, Creekmore said whatever deal they might have worked out was “off the table.”
Last week, Torres offered sometimes tearful testimony about what her life was like in the Barreto home – a life of fear and filth, as the sole caregiver to as many as eight young children 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
She also said her mother spent hours on the computer looking for strangers to take some of the children from their home.
Torres told a story of fear that she would be punished, if she didn’t do what she was told. She said the children were punished with beatings, bindings with duct tape, sleep without mattresses and hot-pepper sauce in their mouths.
If the Barretos come to trial, the testimony may go into more detail.
Have you seen the Barretos?
Call tips to (662) 534-1941.