Janet and Ramon Barreto were returned to the Union County Jail shortly after 4:30 p.m. Sunday – more than five years after being released on a total of $900,000 bond and dropping out of sight.
The manhunt for the couple, which included episodes on “America’s Most Wanted,” an addition to the U. S. Marshals’ 15 Most Wanted list and following up on thousands of tips, ended after a phone call led to their arrest in Portland, Ore. where they were apprehended selling DVDs in a shopping center parking lot.
The two were brought back by Inmate Services of West Memphis, which specializes in prisoner transport. An 11-month-old boy found with the couple and later determined to be their natural child, remained in the hands of Oregon child protective services. It was not clear whether the child would be returned to officials in Washington State, where the couple was apparently living, or whether any suitable relatives could be found to take care of the child.
The Barretos are facing one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence, three counts of felony child abuse and six counts of child neglect. Mrs. Barreto is also charged with witness tampering and it is possible other charges could arise from their flight and actions they took during the five years they were on the run. They could face life in prison.
The case began when they took an injured child, an adopted two-year-old named Enna, to the emergency room, saying she had fallen from a shopping cart. The child was airlifted to Memphis for emergency treatment but died and an autopsy indicated the death was due to physical abuse rather than a fall.
When officers went to the Barreto home they found a puppy mill with about 200 animals having to live in what they referred to as almost unimaginable filth. In addition, inside the house, they found seven young children, most under age three, living in conditions nearly as bad as that of the animals. Officials later learned that all but two of the children had somehow been adopted in Guatemala and brought here. Two daughters were natural children of Barreto and the elder, Marainna Torres, then 17, had been forced to quit school and care for the young children, giving them a little food and punishing them by beating, duct-taping them to their plywood sheet beds and putting hot peppers in their mouths.
Marainna later admitted to “snapping” after being told to shut two-year-old Enna up, hitting the child and throwing her into bed, causing the fatal injuries.
Marainna pleaded guilty and served her sentence but a grand jury indicted the couple for essentially being responsible for the death and other abuses of the children, even if the 17-yeaer-old struck the actual blows. That’s when they fled.
The Barretos apparently have already been arraigned since they were discussing a plea deal when they decided to run.
That means they only need to appear before a judge so it can be determined whether they have legal representation. Law enforcement officials said it is likely they will be represented by local public defenders.
It will also be up to the judge to decide whether to move the trial – assuming the two do not enter guilty pleas – and how far away because of the great amount of publicity the case has received and personal involvement of some officials. The only thing that might delay going to trial at this point is the time needed for defense attorneys to familiarize themselves with the case.
The next term of circuit court in Union County begins Tuesday, Sept. 2, so the Barretos could be before a judge next week.