SNOW HILL – Pre-trial posturing is beginning to heat up in the West Ocean City murder case in April, including the appearance of a former Worcester County prosecutor as lead counsel for the defense and a motion to suppress evidence based on the alleged mishandling of the suspect in the hours after the crime was committed.
Roberto Antonio Murillo, 28, of West Ocean City remains behind bars without bail after being charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Cecilia Dea Parker, 56, in her home just a few doors down from his own residence on April 20. Murillo was officially indicted by a Worcester County grand jury on May 5.
The case has been relatively quiet after the discovery of the crime and Murillo essentially confessed while in custody in the hours after the murder, but complex pre-trial legal wranglings have started as the tentative trial dates for this fall draw closer.
Perhaps the most ironic development thus far is the official entrance on May 13 of former deputy state’s attorney for Worcester County E. Scott Collins as lead counsel for the defendant. Collins served as one of Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd’s leading criminal prosecutor in the Circuit Court for several years before stepping down and going back into the private sector last year.
Todd has assigned himself as lead prosecutor on the Murillo case, which means the current state’s attorney will sit across the aisle from the former deputy state’s attorney that served under him for so many years as the legal heavyweights in the case. Another local attorney, Marc A. Zeve, has also made an official appearance as a member of the defense team along with Collins.
The same day Collins entered his appearance as lead counsel for the defense, he entered a motion to suppress evidence citing a laundry list of mishandled events by police in the hours after the discovery of the crime scene. In the motion, Collins asserts Murillo was arrested without a warrant and the arresting officer did not “forthwith cause a statement of charges to be filed against the defendant and the arresting officer did not as soon as practical file a statement of facts showing probable cause the defendant committed the offense.”
The motion to suppress also alleges Murillo was not fully advised of his constitutional rights prior to making any statements or consenting to any searches and that the defendant did not fully understand his constitutional rights. The motion also alleges Murillo was denied his right to speak to an attorney.
Murillo was quickly identified as the suspect in the murder in the otherwise quiet Mystic Harbor community in West Ocean City on April 20 and was taken into custody the next day and charged with first-degree murder. During an interview after being taken into custody, Murillo essentially confessed to the crime and provided detectives with a detailed account of his version of the hours leading up to the murder.
However, the motion to suppress evidence filed by Collins and Zeve on May 13 alleges the defendant’s “confession” was made under circumstances outside the normal protocol. For example, the motion states, “any statements made or consent given by the defendant were because of inducements and promises made to him by agents of the state.”
The motion also alleges any statements made or consent given were because of “force and/or duress exerted against the defendant by agents of the state,” and “because of threats made against him by agents of the state.”
In his formal response to the motion to suppress evidence, Todd categorically denied the allegations spelled out in the document.
“The state of Maryland, by Joel J. Todd, state’s attorney for Worcester County, in response to the motion to suppress evidence, denies each, every and all allegations contained therein,” the official response reads.
Meanwhile, certain key elements of the case have not been revealed and may not come to light until the case goes to trial. For example, according to Murillo’s statement, his only reason for going over to the victim’s home that day was to get her signature on a check for landscaping work he had done for her and that an argument ensued when she failed to sign the check. However, a source close to the situation said there never was an unsigned check discovered at the scene, which appears to call motive into question. The existence of the check has not been officially affirmed or denied.
Meanwhile, a few more details about the defendant are included in the case file in Murillo’s initial appearance questionnaire. He lived at the residence on Deep Channel Drive just a few doors down from the victim’s home for about two-and-a-half years prior to arrest for the murder. He is single, but lived in the residence with his girlfriend and two children.
Murillo was born in Honduras and is not a resident of the state of Maryland although is citizenship status in unclear in the file. The initial appearance questionnaire also revealed Murillo had worked for a landscaping company for about two-and-a-half months prior to his arrest.
A criminal motions hearing is set for Sept. 3, with a two-day trial set in for Wednesday, Oct. 1 and Thursday, Oct. 2.