Co-workers of Emilia D. Raras -- the woman charged with hiring a hit man to kill her daughter-in-law -- testified yesterday that they knew of the custody battle between her son and Sara J. Williamson Raras, and of the elder Raras' friendly association with the man accused of killing the woman.
The witnesses, who worked with Raras, 63, and Ardale D. Tickles at a Baltimore County nursing home testified that Raras and Tickles were seen talking on several occasions in the employee lounge and at the nursing station before Sara Raras, 35, was killed at her home on Meadowfield Court in Elkridge.
Prosecutors used testimony from Edna Hightower, a nurse, and another co-worker as evidence that Raras and Tickles had a friendly relationship in the months before Sara Raras was killed on Nov. 14, 1998.
"Tickles came around the nursing station a lot," Hightower testified. "And a couple of times they would talk."
Raras, a Parkville resident, is charged with first-degree murder, solicitation to commit murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Closing arguments are scheduled for this morning, and jury deliberations could begin today.
Raras, whose son Lorenzo was involved in a custody dispute with his wife, is accused of hiring Tickles, 20, to kill Sara Raras for $3,000. Prosecutors say Raras' motive was revenge because she felt disrespected and slighted, and because Sara Raras did not want to allow her son to visit his grandmother.
During testimony yesterday, Hightower described Raras as "hurt and disappointed" that Sara Raras would not allow her to see the baby.
She said Raras often talked about the custody battle and her daughter-in-law.
"Emilia said that Sara had cheated on her son. She thought she was not a good wife," Hightower testified. "She said that she was 'loose' because she was seeing someone else."
Hightower said Tickles, whose trial on murder charges is expected to start next month, gave her a "creepy feeling" and made the "hairs on the back of my neck stand up." But Raras liked him, she said.
"Emilia did not share my feelings," Hightower testified.
During a tape-recorded interrogation by Howard County police in August, Emilia Raras acknowledged hiring Tickles, but denied that she wanted her daughter-in-law killed. She told detectives that she wanted Tickles only to throw stones at her house or maybe hurt Sara Raras.
But prosecutors said Tickles broke into Sara Raras' home and stabbed and beat her to death.
Police learned of the crime because Sara Raras somehow called a friend during the attack.
The friend's answering machine recorded muffled sounds and moans during the killing.
The next day, the friend called police, and investigators found her body.
The investigation was stalled until May, when a Baltimore County jail-house informant called police and told them that a cellmate had described a killing in Howard County.
Police put a wire on the inmate, and he taped a conversation with Tickles, who was in the jail on unrelated charges.
Raras was arrested in August.
Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.