Prosecutors patiently await Barretos, two years after flight

NEW ALBANY – Two years ago, Janet and Ramon Barreto left town apparently for Mexico and safe harbor from state charges surrounding the death of their 2-year-old adopted daughter, Enna.
District Attorney Ben Creekmore continues to be optimistic that they will face trial one of these days, even though they still are gone.
“The longer it goes,” Creekmore said recently, “I think our odds are better for their return. They are not in the Barretos’ favor.”
The Barretos remain on the lam despite multiple appeals on the popular “America’s Most Wanted” TV show, as well as a documentary-style program produced about the family and the circumstances leading to Enna’s death at the hands of her stepsister, Marainna Torres, then 16.
In July 2008, Torres pleaded guilty to manslaughter and admitted that in anger, and on orders from her mother to punish the child, she threw Enna across a room and into her mattress-less baby bed.
Enna died May 19, 2008. A coroner’s report ruled blunt force trauma the cause of death.
Torres, Janet Barreto’s biological daughter, now 19, is serving her five-year sentence at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility near Pearl.
At her May 2010 sentencing, Torres told a horror story of her life as a virtual captive of her mother and stepfather, and as the sole caregiver for up to eight infants and young children adopted from out of the country by the Barretos.
For punishment, the children were bound with duct tape and tied to their beds, Torres told the court. They also might be beaten, have their heads held under water or fed hot sauce.
Speaking for the prosecution, Creekmore told Judge Andrew Howorth that while he believed that Torres just “snapped” and threw the child, she was still responsible and made choices that were wrong.
Also at that hearing, a state social worker called to the Barretos’ trailer home just outside New Albany shortly after the child was brought to the hospital, termed their living conditions “deplorable” with a stench so bad investigating personnel wore masks and were forced to open windows and doors. A squalid puppy mill was discovered behind the home.
The woman said she couldn’t imagine the circumstances in which Torres apparently was forced to live in fear of what the adults would do to her, if she didn’t obey them.
Since the Barretos’ arrest, the children have been adopted and reportedly are doing well in their new homes. The dogs that could be saved also were adopted.
Recently, Creekmore said there’s nothing new to the waiting for them by his office, the U.S. Marshals Service and the company holding their $950,000 bails.
And capturing them is not as simple as calling in a bounty hunter to snatch them back into the U.S.
“Some people say, ‘Hey, pay me and I’ll go get them,'” Creekmore noted. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
The district attorney said he and other law enforcement also must continue to explain to Mexican law enforcement why this case is important.
“It’s been very difficult,” Creekmore said. “We’ve had some cooperation with the Mexican authorities, but they’re not all bristled up about them down there.”
Meanwhile, he said that nothing about the evidence has changed, and he’ll just wait for the couple to make a mistake or become a higher priority in Mexico.
At the Barretos’ homesite, the property looks much like it did when they were on house detention right before they left.
The chain-link gate is locked and the grass grows high.
It’s just a short walk away from the cemetery, where Enna is buried.
Just before he sentenced Torres, Howorth labeled her part of the tragedy, too, saying “clearly she had been a victim of some of the same evil forces at work on that property.”
As for Torres, she’s tentatively scheduled for release Dec. 2, 2012. She’ll be six months past her 21st birthday.
If the Barretos ever go to trial, she will be the state’s key witness against them.
“The children don’t have a voice,” she said at her sentencing.
“Somebody needs to tell their story.”
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com.

Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal