A 64-year-old Baltimore County grandmother was sentenced yesterday to life in prison without parole for her role in a murder-for-hire scheme that ended in the death of her daughter-in-law in late 1998.
At yesterday's hearing in Howard County Circuit Court, Emilia D. Raras spoke publicly for the first time, saying she never wanted to kill her daughter-in-law, Sara J. Williamson Raras.
"I would like to say to the honorable court that I had no intention at all to kill Sara," Raras said between sobs. "I'm very, very sorry that it happened."
But her emotional appeal did not convince the judge.
"Mrs. Raras is an evil person who has committed the most evil of deeds," said Judge Dennis M. Sweeney before delivering his sentence. "I see no real remorse in this case."
Raras was convicted in February of first-degree murder and solicitation to commit first-degree murder for paying a co-worker between $2,000 and $3,000 to kill Sara Raras. Emilia Raras told authorities that she was upset with her daughter-in-law over perceived slights and worried about a looming custody battle over her grandson, Will.
Before sentencing Raras, who wore a large, white sweater and clutched a Bible, Sweeney also noted the brutal nature of the crime, saying that he thinks about the case every day.
"Most of the criminal acts that come before this court are senseless and devoid of justification, but few present such a clear picture of a totally innocent victim brutally hunted down by the cold rage of a calculating and evil intelligence," he said.
Prosecutors, who were pushing for life without parole, applauded the judge's sentence. "It was a fair and just sentence," said Assistant State's Attorney Mary Murphy. "It's a hard case to put out of your mind."
After the hearing, defense lawyers filed notice to appeal the case.
Defense lawyer Clarke F. Ahlers, who asked the judge to sentence Raras to eight years in prison and to suspend the remainder of the life sentence, said the punishment "was not unexpected."
Several former friends and co-workers of Sara Raras, who was a statistician at the National Security Agency, attended yesterday's hearing and sat quietly in the courtroom. They wore pictures of her on their lapels.
"Although this sentencing will in no way compensate the loss of Sara, it will, however, help us reach some closure," the friends wrote in a statement.
Sara Raras and her husband, Lorenzo, were involved in a bitter divorce and custody battle over their young son in the months leading up to her death.
Angry with Sara Raras and worried about the outcome of the custody battle, Emilia Raras hired Ardale D. Tickles, 20, a co-worker at a Baltimore County nursing home, to carry out the crime.
In an unexpected move, Tickles pleaded guilty last month to first-degree murder; he could also be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
On Nov. 14, 1998, Tickles burst through a window at Sara Raras' home and attacked her with a hunting knife. Police initially focused their attention on Lorenzo Raras, but the case soon stalled.
The first break came in June, when an informant called Baltimore County police to report that a cellmate in the Baltimore County jail had described the commission of a homicide.
Police put a wiretap on the informant, and Tickles admitted during the tape-recorded conversation that he had stabbed a woman to death in Howard County. His description corresponded nearly perfectly to the Raras slaying.
Tickles also told the informant that a co-worker -- an "Asiatic black sister" -- paid him to commit the murder. By August, police had arrested Tickles and his co-worker, Emilia Raras. During a tape-recorded interrogation with authorities, Raras admitted hiring she hired Tickles but denied that she wanted to kill her daughter-in-law.
During that interrogation, Raras got angry several times, and jurors seemed to rely on her own words to convict her. At one point, the perceived insults were so bad, Raras said, that it would be worth killing someone who "spit" in her face. "Showing disrespect for a mother is death,"Raras told detectives.
It took jurors about 18 hours to convict Raras after a weeklong trial.