exposing the dark side of adoption
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Everything surrounding Enna Barreto's death is tragic


By Patsy R. Brumfield

UNION COUNTY - Two-year-old Enna Isabel Barreto is buried so close to home, her family could easily walk to visit her Martin Cemetery gravesite on County Road 87 just outside New Albany.

But the people who call themselves her adoptive parents and the children considered to be her brothers and sisters are not at home.

Ramon and Janet Barreto, with whom the child from Guatemala had been living, have spent more than a month in jail charged with seven counts of child endangerment and now manslaughter by culpable negligence connected with Enna’s death May 19.

Six other children, most believed to be adopted from Guatemala by the couple, and a young Barreto child are in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Human Services. Mrs. Barreto’s daughter by a previous marriage, 17-year-old Marainna Torres, is at an undisclosed location in the care of a guardian and charged with Enna’s capital murder.

The child died from severe trauma to her head and lower torso, an autopsy report showed. The family initially claimed she had fallen from a shopping cart during a Memphis outing.

Who is responsible for the death of Enna Barreto?

Did her parents, one American and one naturalized from Mexico, treat her so poorly by entrusting her care to her older sister that the teenager became overwhelmed and killed her?

It's going to be Torres’ word against the Barretos. Is it that simple?

The Barretos' attorney, Tony Farese of Ashland, predicts prosecutors will offer leniency to Torres in exchange for her testimony against her parents.

Torres' attorney, Thomas Levidiotis of Oxford, says he won't predict any outcome except to find a way to protect “this child,” as he calls her.

Farese describes his clients as good people, who love children. They apparently went to some lengths and extensive financial burdens to adopt the seven.

"Should they have had that many children?" he asked rhetorically. "I can't speak for their household.”

Levidiotis says Torres is "a fragile person." After Enna’s death, she spent 30 days in a Memphis psychiatric facility.

"She's not some kind of mean person, a hoodlum," he insists. “"She’'s entitled to our best efforts."

Case at issue

Farese says it’s a real stretch to accuse the Barretos of manslaughter because they entrusted their 2-year-old to the care of her 17-year-old sister.

"They didn't anticipate the 17-year-old would kill the child," he adds. "The state is going to have to prove that."

First, unless District Attorney Ben Creekmore comes up with acceptable plea agreements all around, a Union County grand jury will take a look at the facts.

That's expected in September.

However, Farese soon plans to ask for a lower bond so the Barretos can get out of jail and go home to the trailers where investigators believe Enna was attacked by Torres.

"Under the constitution, they are entitled to a reasonable bond," he insisted last week. Each of the Barretos is in jail on $450,000 bond.

Even though they do not appear to be people of much means, they do own property south of New Albany and rent trailers, many of them rundown.

They also ran what has been described as a puppy mill in their backyard, with the pets sold online.

Last week, they walked into the Union County Justice Center courtroom to face the new charges - Ramon, 29, a slight man wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, hands cuffed, legs shackled. Janet, 36, in grey sweatpants and a navy T-shirt, hands cuffed, legs shackled.

After the two-minute hearing they stood docily beside Farese staring blankly at two sheets of paper outlining the charges against them as TV cameras got their video.

"It's been a tragedy - losing not only your child ... locked in jail, accused of capital murder, paraded around to and from jail," Farese observed afterward.

Both sides confident

Union County sheriff's Investigator Roger Garner says he hasn’t stopped his investigation.

Farese, pressing ahead with the conversation, said prosecutors are going to have to tell him what Torres said, then he’ll have a chance to disprove it.

"She's going to allege crazy stuff and we're going to put her on the polygraph," he told reporters Thursday.

Garner came right back, confident about what he’s got.

"I'm not crawling out on a thin limb, if I didn't think the state's case would hold."

Back at Martin Cemetery, Enna Barreto's grave at plot No. 50 is the last one on the back side of a relatively undeveloped part where almost all the 11 other graves are as far away from hers as possible.

Looming over the red dirt shoveled atop her tiny white casket, a few floral arrangements from her May 22 funeral are still there, now in varying degrees of decomposition. The stuffed toys on some of them have lost their fluff from the changeable weather.

Even though the Barretos cannot visit her grave yet, Garner says he does.

However it turns out, Farese says, truth is, "it's probably one of the most tragic cases I’ve handled in a long, long time - everybody loses, it’s terrible."

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com

2008 Jun 29