SNOW HILL – After listening to emotionally charged testimony from several members of the victim’s family, Worcester County Circuit Court Judge Theodore Eschenberg on Monday sentenced convicted killer Roberto Antonio Murillo to life in prison for the stabbing death of a West Ocean City woman in April.
In October, Murillo, 29, of West Ocean City, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Cecilia Dea Parker, 56, of Ocean City, but his sentence was deferred at the time pending the outcome of a pre-sentence investigation. Murillo formally entered a plea of not guilty in October, but agreed on the statement of facts in the case as part of plea arrangement between state prosecutors and the defense attorneys.
On Monday, Murillo was back in court with his attorneys to face a sentencing hearing. The convicted killer, an illegal immigrant from Honduras, was stoic as an interpreter relayed to him the testimony of several of Parker’s family members, who called him a “monster” and called on God to deliver real justice upon him during the emotionally charged hearing.
Eschenberg told those assembled in court he had come in the day before, a Sunday, to review the facts of the case and carefully read the information contained in the pre-sentence investigation report to make sure he was prepared to hand down a sentence the following day.
“None of this makes any sense,” he said. “It did not have to happen. I’ve weighed the pros and cons, and the appropriate sentence in this case is life in prison.”
Eschenberg said the evidence in the case showed Murillo stabbed Parker several times and slashed at her dozens more, suggesting there was no element of an accidental murder during an altercation gone terribly wrong. He said the number of stab wounds and slashes, and the position of many of them on the victim’s body, suggested she was fighting for her life as Murillo attacked her.
“I can’t imagine how she went through the last moments of her life,” he said. “You can’t accidentally stab somebody 20 times and cut them 30 times. There is no doubt in my mind you intended to kill her. You stabbed her over and over again and showed her no mercy. You literally slaughtered her.”
On April 21, Maryland State Police and the Worcester County Bureau of Investigation responded to Parker’s residence in the Mystic Harbor community in West Ocean City for a reported homicide and discovered her body. According to the statement of facts, Parker hired Murillo to do some landscaping around her residence, and when she returned home from work around 4:30 p.m. on April 20, she saw Murillo outside his residence, across the street from her home, and waved him over so she could make the final payment to him.
Murillo then went over to Parker’s house where he obtained a check from the victim for the rest of the work and returned to his own residence. According to the statement of facts, Murillo returned to Parker’s home sometime after 7 p.m.
According to Murillo’s own statement of the events, he returned to Parker’s home when he realized the check she had given him for the landscaping work had not been signed. However, Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd this week confirmed the check in question had been signed by Parker, calling into question the defendant’s motive for returning to her residence in the first place.
At some point, a physical altercation broke out between Parker and Murillo, according to police reports, produced a knife and stabbed the victim in the side. The fight continued for several minutes with the victim ultimately succumbing to multiple stab wounds to her front and back.
While Murillo was in custody at the state police barrack, detectives noticed a variety of injuries to his hands and person. His DNA was later discovered at Parker’s home including under the victim’s fingernails. When questioned further, Murillo agreed to talk and ultimately confessed to the crime and laid out the details of the event in what turned out to be a statement of over 180 pages.
Shortly after Murillo was sentenced to life on Monday, his defense attorneys filed a notice to appeal the case to the state’s Court of Special Appeals.
After several members of Parker’s family testified or read official statements into the record before Murillo’s sentencing on Monday, Todd asked the judge to sentence the convicted killer to the maximum allowed under the law.
“I was working in Court Room 2 that day when I was advised there was a homicide. As I left to go to the scene, I remember dreading the feeling it was somebody I knew, and later found out it was Dea,” he said. “She was a sweet, kind-hearted person in my personal experience. This defendant took her life and has been convicted of first-degree murder. I now ask the judge to sentence him to life in prison and not suspend any of that sentence.”
Defense attorney E. Scott Collins countered with his own plea for a measure of leniency for his client. Collins pointed to comments made by a state psychologist during the pre-sentence investigation that suggested Murillo suffered from an apparent panic disorder, which may have contributed to the incident.
“In the pre-sentence investigation, the psychologist’s report mentions a panic disorder. He has never been arrested before, not even for shoplifting, but the first crime he commits is this horrific murder,” he said. “I ask you to look into your heart as you consider a sentence.”
The victim’s family portrayed Murillo as a horrible monster and called on the judge to give them justice.
“Our entire family will never be the same again,” said Parker’s sister-in-law Anne Liekiewski. “Dea was goodness and kindness personified and I hope someday we can forget how she was slaughtered by you. We want you to picture Dea every minute of every day you spend in prison and remember that face as you burn in hell.”
Murillo was not without his own advocates in the courtroom Monday, including his sister-in-law Josefina Murillo, who urged the judge to consider some mercy for the convicted killer.
“It’s a tragedy for both families,” she said. “Anybody can make a mistake. The devil gets into people sometimes.”
In the end, Eschenberg ruled it was not a mistake, but a brutal murder carried out with malicious intent, and sentenced Murillo to life in prison. He will be eligible for parole in 15 years, but it remains unlikely he will ever be released. Should he be released at some point in the future, Murillo would be extradited out of the country to his native Honduras.