The last of three men convicted in the beating and stoning death of a Honduran immigrant whose body was found in a Columbia creek bed last spring was sentenced yesterday to 18 years in prison.
William D. Maldonado was a "significant participant" in the "bizarre and brutal" attack that left 33-year-old Antonio Ayala dead, Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley said before imposing the sentence.
"The bottom line is that this was a senseless and brutal killing. It was murder," Dudley said. "It was murder, and the disposition needs to reflect that."
Yesterday's sentencing brings to an end a three-part investigation and prosecution that began with the discovery of Ayala's body in woods behind Flowerstock Row on May 20 last year, and resulted in the arrests a month later of Maldonado and Marcos Escalante in Clayton County, Ga., and of Reyes Escalante in Charlotte, N.C. The Escalantes are cousins.
In January, Reyes Escalante, who prosecutors have said played a minor role in the slaying, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Marcos Escalante was convicted of second-degree murder after a jury trial in February. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Maldonado pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in June.
He told police that he and the other three men were drinking in the woods late May 16, 2002 - each had had about 10 beers, he said - when Ayala and Marcos Escalante began fighting. Ayala hit Marcos Escalante first and cut him in the back with a knife, Maldonado told investigators.
But Maldonado, who lived with the Escalantes, Ayala and another man in the 5700 block of Stevens Forest Road, admitted to police that he hit Ayala with rocks and with a four-by-four. The three men then dragged Ayala - who Maldonado said was still breathing - to a stream, he told authorities.
"Your honor, this was a vicious and brutal and savage taking of a life," prosecutor Brendan Clary said. He asked Dudley to sentence Maldonado within the 12- to 20-year range recommended by state sentencing guidelines.
But prosecutors also noted in court papers that Maldonado has expressed "remorse" for the killing to a local pastor.
Defense attorney William Bauer said he believed that while Reyes Escalante was the least culpable in the killing, Marcos Escalante was the most culpable. Maldonado falls "somewhere in between," Bauer said. He asked Dudley to impose a similar sentence to the one given to Reyes Escalante.
His client, he said, is a Honduran immigrant with a sixth-grade education who came here "to seek a better life" and who worked hard at his restaurant job.
Two of Maldonado's co-workers echoed that sentiment yesterday, saying they had "high regard" for him and that he never caused problems at his job at Rocky Run Tap & Grill in Columbia.
"I'd like to have him back," said Jonathan Leavitt, one of Maldonado's co-workers.
After the sentencing, Shannon Ayala, who is divorced from Antonio Ayala's brother and has spoken for the family throughout the proceedings, declined to comment. She has previously described her former brother-in-law as a "gentle" and "caring" man.