SNOW HILL – The man accused in the stabbing death of a West Ocean City woman in April was found guilty of first-degree murder this week in Worcester County Circuit Court and likely faces life in prison.
Roberto Antonio Murillo, 29, of West Ocean City, formally entered a plea of not guilty on Monday, but agreed on the statement of facts in the case as part of a plea arrangement between prosecutors and his attorneys. Circuit Court Judge Theodore Eschenberg then found Murillo guilty of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Cecilia Dea Parker, 56 of West Ocean City.
With several members of the victim’s family in the courtroom, State’s Attorney Joel Todd briefly urged Eschenberg to proceed with sentencing, stating there was likely not much to gain from a lengthy pre-sentence investigation into the Honduran national’s past. However, the judge said a pre-sentence investigation is a normal protocol in a first-degree murder case and could not be waived without consent from the defense. Lead defense attorney E. Scott Collins did not waive his client’s right to a pre-sentence investigation.
Before accepting Murillo’s plea, Eschenberg, through an interpreter, carefully went through a series of questions to the defendant ensuring he understood what he was pleading to and that he was not coerced or threatened into agreeing to the plea. The judge explained to the defendant he is facing life in prison without the opportunity for parole for at least 15 years.
“You are in this country illegally and the time will come when you will be deported, if and when you get out of prison,” the judge told Murillo. “You understand there is a possibility you will never get out of jail?”
During the plea hearing on Monday, Todd read into the record the agree-upon statement of facts including that the victim had been stabbed 21 times. 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, Parker’s parents and other family members visited her at her home on April 20 and left around 7 p.m. Some time after 7 p.m., Murillo returned to Parker’s home. 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.
According to Murillo’s statement, Parker took the unsigned check and went back toward a bedroom, presumably to get a pen and sign the check. Murillo told police Parker returned and told him to get out or she would call the police and tell them he was trying to rob her.
At this point, a physical altercation broke out between Parker and Murillo, according to police reports, and at some point, Murillo 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.
In brief testimony following the reading of the statement of facts, Todd asserted the pre-meditation element of the first-degree murder charge was met because each and every stabbing of the victim after the initial one was done with malice and intent.
“With 21 stab wounds, clearly there was premeditation between the first and second, between the second and third and so forth and so forth until the 21st,” he said. “The defendant intentionally killed the victim and did so with aforethought after the initial stabbing.”
Although the plea arrangement had already been agreed upon, Collins did not waste an opportunity to call into question the premeditation element of the crime, stating he could likely pound on the desk 21 times in a matter of about 10 seconds.
“There might not be premeditation for someone in a homicidal frenzy. To say he had time to think between each one is probably a stretch,” Collins said.
Also during the plea hearing on Monday, it came to light how Murillo was ultimately developed as a suspect in the crime. As a matter of routine, detectives in a homicide case often interview neighbors to see if they heard or saw anything, and in this case, those interviews included Murillo, who lived across the street and diagonally from the victim’s home. During that initial interview, it was discovered Murillo was an illegal alien and he was taken to the state police barrack in Berlin for processing on that separate issue.
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 events in what turned out to be a statement of over 180 pages.