Mental Health Issues Cited In Murderer’s Appeal

SNOW HILL — A Honduran man, serving life in prison for the stabbing death of a popular local woman in April 2008, is attempting another shot at post-conviction relief and a new trial, but the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office is having none of it.

In April 2008, Roberto Murillo, now 39, a Honduran national who was living and working in West Ocean City at the time, 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 of a landscaping job. In October 2008, Murillo was found guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced in January 2009 to life in prison.

Murillo has since filed multiple appeals and petitions for post-conviction relief, seeking a modification of his sentence or even a new trial. At each juncture and at each court level, his appeals and petitions have been denied. Early this month, Murillo filed another petition for post-conviction relief, asserting his counsel at trial and subsequent attempts for relief had not adequately explored his alleged mental disorders that led him to attack the victim.

The petition for post-conviction relief asserts Murillo was examined by a psychiatrist during the pre-sentence investigation period after his conviction and before his sentencing and that the doctor included a one-page diagnosis of Murillo’s alleged propensity for panic attacks.

“The petitioner contends that trial counsel failed to thoroughly investigate Mr. Murillo’s mental health problems as stated in the pre-sentence investigation report from the psychiatrist that examined him and indicated that he had a sort of panic disorder,” the petition reads. “His diagnosis was Mr. Murillo suffered from an aggressive disorder requiring anger management.”

The petition also attempts to paint Murillo as an otherwise decent citizen whose stabbing attack on the victim was out of character and likely caused by some mental disorder.

“Mr. Murillo had no prior criminal record whatsoever,” the petition reads. “He was never even arrested for any crime, always worked and was known to be always pleasant. No one can figure out what happened, or if some mental illness caused Mr. Murillo to go off and he panicked or blacked out due to his mental illness over the years. This crime is clearly out of character for Mr. Murillo.”

The petition for post-conviction relief asserts Murillo’s trial counsel did not adequately explore his mental disorders prior to sentencing and suggests an in-depth review might have altered the outcome.

“Trial counsel did not conduct a reasonable investigation into Mr. Murillo’s mental health issues that might well have influenced the judge’s appraisal of his moral culpability of the crime had it been introduced at sentencing in January 2009,” the petition reads. “The fact that trial counsel was informed that Mr. Murillo had a sort of panic disorder should have triggered an obligation to seek further diagnosis of a second psychiatrist for an opinion of what would trigger a person into a violent rage when Mr. Murillo had no record of any violent conduct.”

The petition goes onto to assert a bite he sustained as a child in Honduras from a venomous snake did and continues to contribute to his mental state and occasional bouts with rage and panic attacks.

“Mr. Murillo has had serious headaches for years after being bitten by a poisonous snake as a small child in Honduras,” the petition reads. “Mr. Murillo was never able to afford further medical treatment for the side effects of the poisonous snake bite and the antivenom. Mr. Murillo still has serious headaches that cause him to black out and have occasional panic attacks.”

The Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office answered Murillo’s latest attempt at post-conviction relief, systematically dismantling each of claims spelled out in the petition.

“The state of Maryland, by the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office, denies each and every one of the contentions of the petitioner and says that each and every one of them is unsupported by fact,” the state’s answer filed on Tuesday reads. “Even if true, they would not entitle the petitioner to the relief sought.”

The relief being sought by Murillo in the latest petition filed earlier this month includes a re-opening of the prior post-conviction proceedings and, should the merits dictate, an order be issued for a new trial. However, the state’s attorney’s answer filed on Tuesday attempts to put the kibosh on Murillo’s latest attempt at a new trial.

“The petitioner is not entitled to an additional post-conviction petition and, moreover, he had competent counsel throughout his first petition and for the relief he sought,” the answer reads. “Having fully answered said petition, the state of Maryland requests that the same be dismissed.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.