Barretos to be brought back later this week

Union County’s most famous fugitives, Janet and Ramon Barreto, are expected to be returned to New Albany this Friday or Saturday, Sheriff Jimmy Edwards said.

Since going to get the couple in Portland and returning them either by way of air or in a sheriff’s car would be both impractical and expensive, the county has contracted with Inmate Services Corp. of West Memphis to transport the couple. “We would have to send a male and female officer and it would be difficult to carry her in the back of a cage car,” the sheriff said, referring to Janet Barreto particularly.

The West Memphis company, one of several that specialize in transporting prisoners, will use a custom Ford E 350 12-passenger van with separate caged areas to return the two, keeping them in holding cells in jails overnight along the route. They were to leave Monday or Tuesday,” the sheriff said.

Transporting the couple will not cost the county anything because the bonding agent who was left on the hook by them to the tune of more than $900,000 has agreed to pay all costs, Edwards said.

Once the Barretos are back in Union County, the court will determine whether they have legal representation or whether they need to have representation appointed, Edwards said. “They have already had their preliminary hearing and the judge will surely determine they are a flight risk,” he added, so one might expect no bond will be set for the two.

Attorneys in the case will need to be brought up to date and some motions are likely to be filed but the Barretos are essentially ready for trial otherwise.

The sheriff said their trial, if they do not enter guilty pleas, will almost certainly be held elsewhere due to the extensive publicity the case has generated. “It may be the Gulf Coast, or as far away as we can,” he said. But an alternative may be available that was nearly used in a prior high-profile case last year. Had that one gone to trial, the proceedings would have been held in Oxford but with a jury selected from far away and bussed in. It would depend on the number of witnesses and others involved as to what a judge would decide concerning location.

Edwards said the baby found with the couple during their arrest has been confirmed as their natural child, but he did not know whether Portland officials would keep it in their jurisdiction or return it to Washington, where the couple apparently have been living about a year (possibly moving there about the same time they were reported in California but officers had missed them then).

Officials still don’t know much about the Barretos’ life on the run, or whether they may have engaged in other criminal activities during that time. For instance, the sheriff said they had apparently been receiving Medicaid and Medicare under their aliases, which would be defrauding the government. In fact, unanswered questions remain about their lives in Union County and how they were able to acquire so many children.

A tip to the U. S. Marshals Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force in Oxford ended the couple’s five-year run, and the two were ultimately picked up in the parking lot of a Portland, Oregon shopping center Tuesday last week selling DVDs.

The case began in May 2008 when the couple brought their adopted two-year-old daughter, Enna, to the hospital here, saying the child had been injured falling from a shopping cart. Although transferred to Memphis for emergency care, the child died and an autopsy determined the cause of death to be suspicious blunt force trauma to the head and torso.

When officers went to the couple’s home at 824 CR 87, they found conditions described as “horrendous.” Outside was an unmaintained puppy mill with nearly 200 dogs and other animals and, even worse, they said, was that seven young children were living in a trailer that was often locked. The children, most under age three, had apparently been adopted from Guatemala and were being cared for primarily by Mrs. Barreto’s teenage daughter, Marainna Torres, then 17.

The teen told officers that she had been forced to quit school to care for the young children by herself, feeding them little and punishing them with beatings, duct-taping them to beds that were only only plywood sheets and putting hot pepper sauce in their mouths.

Marainna confessed that she had finally lost control one day when her mother told her to make Enna shut up and stop crying, and in a fit of rage struck Enna and threw her into a baby bed, causing the fatal injuries.

The following year, Torres pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death and was sentenced to 20 years in prison with 15 of those years suspended.

Three weeks later the grand jury also indicted Janet and Ramon, then 37 and 31, respectively, charging them with one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence (for putting Torres in the position she was in and the conditions that led up to the death), three counts of felony child abuse and six counts of child neglect.

Already in jail, Torres expressed willingness to testify against her mother and stepfather and after authorities found Janet was threatening Torres, trying to get her to change her story, also charged Janet with witness tampering.

When the couple were to actually appear in court, it was evident they had fled.

Interest in the couple never went away, thanks in part to John Walsh and his TV program, “America’s Most Wanted” doing an extended segment on the Barretos. Then, in 2013, the U. S. Marshals Service put Janet on their 15 Most Wanted List nationwide as the lone female on that list.

The couple face possible sentences ranging from up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine per count up to potentially life in prison.

“It brings a lot of satisfaction knowing they were captured,” the sheriff said, “ but I dread going through all the proceedings.”

“I hope it will end up and justice will be served,” he said.