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BARRETO CASE: A Hidden Truth


BARRETO CASE: A Hidden Truth

by Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

The Barretos' home made up of two trailers stands behind tall weeds and a locked gate just outside New Albany. The couple escaped from Union County authorities in early May 2009 to avoid prosecution for manslaughter, child endangerment and felony child abuse. (C. Todd Sherman)

This is a second in a three-part series on the Barreto case.

NEW ALBANY – A Tupelo adoption agency home inspector never went past the Barretos’ double-wide’s front room and never saw “the back trailer” where multiple young children sometimes were bound with duct tape to keep them quiet, says Marainna Torres.

Torres, now 19, is serving a five-year prison term for killing one of those children.

Her mother and stepfather, Janet and Ramon Barreto, adopted seven youngsters from Guatemala between 2005 and 2008. Adoptions stopped when 2-year-old Ena died after Torres threw her into a plywood-bottomed baby bed in 2008.

Torres said the female inspector was with New Beginnings of Tupelo, which helps people adopt in the U.S. and internationally.

“She just stayed in the living room or the dining room, dining room or the den, so nobody has ever, none of them has ever really been to the back trailer,” Torres said in a transcribed statement, which the Daily Journal just obtained.

New Beginnings has declined to comment. Adoption information usually is confidential and not released publicly.

Home studies are conducted to help determine the suitability of the adoption applicants’ home environment to raise children.

In the statement to law enforcement, then-17-year-old Torres said the first inspector came just once and walked through the whole house, which then was just a double-wide trailer.

But after more children arrived, the Barretos added a single-wide to the rear of the house and connected the two with a narrow hallway. That’s where most of the children were kept and locked in at night, Torres said.

The New Beginnings home study inspector “didn’t go through the house at all” in two later visits, Torres insisted.

The Barretos also are charged in the child’s death, but in May 2009 they escaped Union County and prosecution. They are believed to be in Mexico, where Ramon has family.

When investigators entered the dwelling just outside New Albany in May 2008, it was littered with garbage, food, soiled diapers, dog feces, dirty laundry and spent needles Janet Barreto used to administer diabetes medication.

One questioner asked Torres, “Did it smell like that all the time?”

Union County Sheriff’s Investigator Roger Garner told her, “I’ve done this 20 years, and that is utterly the worst that I have walked into, and that was common – that was constant?”

Yes, she answered him.

Johnny Bell, the district attorney’s investigator, followed up, “About how long had that smell been there that strong?”

Torres said the smell was just usually there, but wasn’t always that bad. “It was just when we started getting all of them (the children), it started getting worse,” she said.

Behind the house was a large puppy mill operation filled with filthy, ill-kept small dogs the Barretos sold on the Internet or in parking lots or car washes.

Torres said the Barretos used credit cards to acquire the children, ranging from $615 to $25,000, depending on their physical conditions.

Tom Vielie, New Beginnings executive director, declined to answer any questions about whether or not they were involved with any Barreto adoptions.

However, he said his organization was “the primary proponent” of a state law requiring a home study for Mississippi adoptions, “something that was not required by the courts until 2008,” the year Ena Barreto died.

Torres’ statement claims the young children rarely were bathed, were forced to drink hot sauce as punishment and spent hours tied up with duct tape after they “were cutting up.”

As for her mother, Torres said maybe once or twice a week Janet Barreto would go to the back of the trailer, where the children stayed in their beds, and gave them “little cakes” she bought on sale at the bakery.

Standard food for the children was cereal and bologna sandwiches, which came from a government food program.

Julia Bryan, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Human Services, said her agency had no idea the adopted Barreto children even existed until news broke about Ena’s death in May 2008.

DHS immediately took all the children into custody and most are believed to have been adopted.

Bryan said there’s virtually no tracking done of such children and that if the adoptive parents enter the U.S. with papers saying the child is their child, no one thinks anything about it.

“Unless we get a report of a problem, there’s no intervention,” Bryan noted. “We urge people to pay attention, and if they see something they don’t feel like is quite right, to call us.”

Other parts of the series

- Wednesday Click here for Barretos' daughter described life at home to police

- Friday: “America’s Most Wanted” gets back in the hunt for the Barretos.

2010 Jun 10