Marcos Olvera Ramirez thought Sheldon Thigpen wanted him for a painting job. But when the 74-year-old took him to a Jessup motel and made sexual advances, Ramirez reacted with rage so intense that he strangled the Silver Spring man, his attorney argued yesterday.
During a Howard Circuit Court hearing, Assistant Public Defender Sam Truette said that the 27-year-old Hyattsville man should be shown leniency due to the circumstances surrounding the killing at the Cedar Motel on U.S. 1.
But Judge Dennis Sweeney sentenced Ramirez to 22 years in prison for the June 23, 1994, slaying.
Ramirez, initially charged with first-degree murder, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in February. He could have been sentenced to 25 years in prison if he had been convicted of the first-degree charge.
Mr. Truette argued for a 10-year sentence for Ramirez, a native of Mexico. He described the slaying as a "transgression" that does not reflect his client's nature.
"The overtures made by Mr. Thigpen provoked nothing but revulsion in Mr. Ramirez of such an extreme and visceral quality and quantity that he killed him," Mr. Truette said. "There's no excuse for it."
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Murtha attempted to put the focus of the hearing on Ramirez's actions -- not those of Mr. Thigpen.
"The reason [Ramirez] is here today is not because of any acts Mr. Thigpen did," Mr. Murtha said. "Whatever human frailties Mr. Thigpen may have experienced . . . this defendant should not be rewarded."
But Mr. Truette described Mr. Thigpen as a man with an "incredible sexual appetite." He said Mr. Thigpen had tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The attorney noted managers and residents of the Cedar Motel reported that Mr. Thigpen came to the business up to four times a week, typically with young Latino men.
"How many people had Mr. Thigpen unknowingly infected with HIV?" Mr. Truette said.
"One has to think of the faceless, countless people who will live today because of the unfortunate act of Mr. Ramirez."
Mr. Truette said Ramirez is an evangelical Christian with high morals and hopes of escaping the "amoral nether world" many of his impoverished peers experience on the streets in Latin America.
Mr. Truette said Ramirez will likely be deported by the federal Department of Immigration and Naturalization after he serves his prison term, returning to the poverty he tried to escape.
"This incident reflects his misfortune," he said. "Out of his desperation to find some kind of financial stability, he made this acquaintance with Mr. Thigpen."
But Mr. Murtha described Ramirez as a "cold and ruthless" man with a lengthy criminal record that includes convictions for theft and disorderly conduct.
He noted that Ramirez left Mr. Thigpen's body wrapped in a white sheet, leading police to believe that Ramirez intended to dispose of the corpse.
The body was naked except for a pair of white socks and a belt wrapped tightly around the neck.
The police investigation was hampered at first because detectives could not identify the body. Mr. Thigpen's 1990 Buick Park Avenue and his wallet had been stolen.
Mr. Thigpen, a self-employed accountant who was married for 30 years, was identified as the victim four days after his death, when his wife recognized a police sketch of him in a newspaper.
Ramirez became a suspect when police found Mr. Thigpen's car abandoned near his home in Hyattsville. Ramirez left the car at an acquaintance's house.