SNOW HILL — A Honduran man, who was convicted of first-degree murder for the stabbing death of a popular local woman in April 2008 and sentenced to life in prison, was denied a chance at a second trial last week, but will have the opportunity to seek a sentence modification.
In April 2008, Roberto Murillo, now 38, a Honduran national who was living and working in West Ocean City, stabbed to death his neighbor, Cecilia Dea Parker, 56, at her home in the Mystic Harbor community, in an apparent dispute over a check for payment for a landscaping job. In October 2008, Murillo was found guilty of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison three months later.
On April 21, 2008, 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. 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.
Nearly a decade later, Murillo filed a motion for post-conviction relief seeking a new trial, or at least a modification of his sentence. In the motion for a new trial, Murillo cited three allegations of ineffectiveness of counsel during his initial trial in October 2008. In the motion, Murillo argued his trial counsel did not attempt to suppress statements made during his initial interrogation at the Maryland State Police barrack in Berlin in violation of his Miranda rights. He also argued ineffectiveness of counsel in not attempting the defense of involuntary intoxication. Finally, Murillo argued in his motion his defense counsel did not advise him properly of his post-conviction rights.
A post-conviction hearing was held in September on the merits of Murillo’s allegations of ineffectiveness of council and Worcester County Circuit Court Judge Brian Shockley deferred his opinion at the time. Last week, Shockley issued his opinion, denying Murillo’s motion on some of the main allegations, while granting the motion on the issue of his post-conviction rights.
As a result, Murillo was denied a new trial, but he was granted the right to filed for a modification of his sentence within 90 days. The judge’s opinion was filed on December 28, setting in motion Murillo’s 90-day window to seek a modification of his original sentence.
In terms of the alleged violations of his Miranda rights, Murillo asserted he informed his defense counsel of police misconduct during the initial interrogation, but the defense counsel failed to pursue those issues during the suppression hearing.
“The petitioner alleges he advised his attorney’s during interrogation he twice invoked his right to counsel and was improperly told that confessing would result in deportation and not incarceration,” the judge’s opinion reads.
However, Shockley’s opinion denied Murillo’s assertion on that issue.
“The judge found the petitioner had not invoked his right to counsel and, thus, he was denied the right to suppression,” the opinion reads. “This court is satisfied that the trial attorneys were effective in their representation on this issue.
In terms of Murillo’s assertion police interrogators promised him deportation rather than a conviction and incarceration in exchange for a confession, the judge’s opinion issued last week was clear on that issue.
“The petitioner’s testimony on this issue was not credible and this court is not convinced that the police improperly induced the petitioner’s confession,” the opinion reads.
In terms of failing to pursue a defense of involuntary intoxication, the judge’s opinion released last week was also clear and denied a bid for a new trial on those grounds.
“The petitioner testified at the post-conviction hearing he was so drunk that the following day he did not remember attacking the victim,” the opinion reads. “In fact, he testified that he went to work the next day as if nothing happened and told his attorneys he was drunk but his counsel decided not to pursue this issue.”
However, Shockley’s opinion released last week pointed out the evidence and testimony in the case did not illustrate Murillo’s intoxication level during the commission of the murder.
“The judge specifically noted 21 stab wounds the petitioner inflicted on the victim, suggesting the petitioner willfully, intentionally and deliberately carried out the crime,” the opinion reads. “Moreover, the petitioner washed all of the victim’s blood from the crime scene and the murder knife was hidden. This indicated he was aware of what he had done.”