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Cleveland couple sentenced for death of 4-year-old godson found buried in backyard

Posted at 5:22 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 18:11:56-05

CLEVELAND — A Cleveland couple was sentenced Tuesday for the death of a 4-year-old boy who was left in their care while his mother served a prison term in 2016.

Romaine Tolbert, 38, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for causing the death of his wife's godson. Joanne Vega, 33, was sentenced to eight years in prison for her involvement in the death.

“This community has seen too many senseless homicides of innocent children,” said prosecutor Michael O’Malley. “We hope that the victim’s family can take some solace in today’s sentence as justice for Eliazar has prevailed.”

Eliazar Ruiz's mother, who was preparing to serve a term of incarceration, dropped him off at Vega’s house so she could care for him.

After her release from prison in 2016, she last saw her son at a Fourth of July party.

Between then and June 2017, Vega and Tolbert denied multiple requests by Eliazar’s mother and other family members to see him before his family reported him as missing.

On Sept. 20, 2017, landscapers working in the 12900 block of Longmead Avenue found the boy's remains in the backyard of an abandoned home. Investigators said that it appeared the remains had been there for several months.

Vega pleaded guilty to the following charges:

  • One count of Involuntary Manslaughter.
  • One count of Endangering Children.
  • One count of Tampering With Evidence.
  • One count of Gross Abuse Of A Corpse.

A jury found Tolbert guilty of the following charges:

  • One count of Involuntary Manslaughter.
  • One count of Kidnapping.
  • One count of Endangering Children.
  • One count of Tampering With Evidence.
  • One count of Gross Abuse Of A Corpse.

He was found not guilty of murder.

In court Tuesday, Vega apologized to Ruiz's mother and said she was sickened by what happened.

"I am so sorry from the bottom of my heart," said Vega. "I hope that one day you can find it in your heart to forgive me. Never did I want anything like this to occur."

Ruiz's mother said she forgives Vega.

She then left the courtroom before Tolbert's apology.

"I can't take back any of the actions that I've made, anything that I've done," said Tolbert. "All I can do is continue to change my present moment and future outcomes."

RELATED: Jury convicts man accused of killing 4-year-old boy found buried in Cleveland backyard