Ardale D. Tickles will be punished for the murder of an Elkridge woman, but not as severely as the woman who hired him to kill her daughter-in-law.
Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney sentenced Tickles yesterday to life in prison, but he did not impose the "without the possibility of parole" clause that prosecutors were seeking.
Tickles, 20, will serve that sentence after completing the 25-year sentence he received in Baltimore County on unrelated attempted murder charges.
The earliest Tickles could possibly be eligible for parole is 2024. That year is based on the mandatory half of each sentence served - a life sentence counts for 30 years -minus time off for good behavior.
In April, Sweeney sentenced the woman who hired him to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Against the advice of Public Defender Samuel Truette, Tickles pleaded guilty in March to first-degree murder in the Nov. 14, 1998, killing of Sara J. Williamson Raras, 35.
After a trial in early February, Sara Raras' mother-in-law, Emilia D. Raras, 64, was found guilty of first-degree murder. Evidence showed that Emilia Raras paid Tickles, a man she worked with at a nursing home in Baltimore County, $3,000 to $5,000 to kill her daughter-in-law.
Sara Raras and her husband, Lorenzo, were involved in a bitter divorce when Sara was killed. Emilia Raras told authorities she was worried Sara Raras would not let her see her grandson if awarded custody of the child.
During yesterday's sentencing in Ellicott City, Sweeney said there "must be some distinction between Tickles and Raras."
To make that differentiation, Sweeney said, the court will not totally preclude the possibility of Tickles' parole at some time in the distant future.
While reading a two-page, front-and-back handwritten letter to the court, Tickles said he knew his future included lots of prison time.
He read the letter in a monotone, but he said numerous times that he prayed for "Miss Sara and her family and her loved ones."
After reading the letter, Tickles spoke directly to the judge for nearly 15 minutes. Mixed in with his admissions of guilt and expressions of remorse were phrases such as "I was tricked and lied to and used."
Tickles' words seemed to back up the two witnesses Truette called to the stand during the sentencing.
Pamela Taylor, a psychiatric social worker from Silver Spring, testified that Tickles had an unstable youth that affected his ability to think about the true consequences of his actions.
Albert Cyford of Baltimore also testified on Tickles' behalf. Cyford said he is planning to adopt Tickles and has acted as a father figure to him off and on during the past five years.
Cyford said he had never seen a violent side to Tickles. He said Emilia Raras must have "hooked him by mothering him."
Truette touched on Tickles' need for a family several times during the sentencing. Tickles' mother, Taylor said, was diagnosed as schizophrenic before he was born.
Taylor said Tickles moved from foster placement to foster placement - some of them physically and sexually abusive - until his teen-age years. Sweeney said he took Tickles' background, age and admission of guilt into consideration when making his decision.
Those factors, Sweeney said, had to be balanced with the "brutal and senseless nature of the murder."
During the presentation of the state's case, prosecutor I. Matthew Campbell reviewed the details of the night Sara Raras was killed in her Meadowfield Court home.
"The life of this young woman was taken in so serious a way that it shocks the conscience," Campbell said. "This is one of the most terrible murders this court has ever seen."
The autopsy revealed that Sara Raras had scores of knife wounds, including stab wounds to the abdomen, chest, back and arms.
These stab wounds were made after Tickles inflicted a nine-inch gaping wound to the neck, Campbell said.
In a taped jailhouse conversation between Tickles and another inmate, Tickles talked about the brutal way in which he murdered Sara Raras.
"I took the knife, and I just ... cut her head off," Campbell quoted Tickles as saying on the tape. "I started grabbing her, jabbing her, and the blood was just gushing out."
Campbell said it was necessary to revisit the crime to "justify the request for so serious a sanction" against Tickles.
Tickles' sentencing completes court proceedings in the case. Two of Sara Raras' friends attended the Tickles sentencing. Tickles had two half-sisters and an aunt at the sentencing.