Raras stunned by conviction in homicide

Mother-in-law guilty, could get life term for murder-for-hire plot

February 05, 2000|By Kris Antonelli and Del Quentin Wilber | Kris Antonelli and Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Emilia Raras buried her face in her hands and sobbed after a Howard County jury found her guilty in a 1998 murder-for-hire scheme that resulted in the brutal stabbing death of her Elkridge daughter-in-law.

Raras of Parkville is scheduled to be sentenced April 20 and could get life in prison. A jury of eight women and four men deliberated nearly 18 hours before finding her guilty shortly after midnight yesterday of first-degree murder and solicitation to commit first-degree murder, but not guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.

Raras, 63, and Ardale D. Tickles, 20, co-workers at a Baltimore County nursing home, were arrested in August after a lengthy investigation into the killing of Sara J. Williamson Raras on Nov. 14, 1998.

Raras appeared so shocked by the verdict that she could not get out of her chair after the jury had left the room. Her husband, Antonio Raras, and another relative sat silently while defense attorney Carol James comforted her and prepared her to be led away by deputies.

Clutching her Bible, she waved to her family as she was taken out of the courtroom.

James and Raras' other attorney, Clark F. Ahlers, also appeared stunned and would not comment on the verdict. Antonio Raras also declined to comment.

Assistant State's Attorney Mary Murphy, who along with I. Matthew Campbell prosecuted the Raras case, said she was pleased with the verdict and had called Sara Raras' family members, who live in Alabama, to give them the news.

"They had planned on being here, but as the trial got closer their emotions became overwhelming, and they decided to stay home," Murphy said.

Jury struggled

Raras' trial lasted more than a week and the jury's deliberations were among the longest in memory, sheriff's deputies and court workers said. After about seven hours of emotional closing statements, the jury began deliberating about 3: 30 p.m. Wednesday and ended for the day at 7: 30 p.m. It resumed at 8: 30 a.m. Thursday.

It appeared the jury was struggling with the issue of whether Raras intended to have her daughter-in-law killed -- a legal requirement for a first-degree murder conviction. Ahlers had contended that his client, when she contracted with Tickles, had only meant to hurt Sara Raras for revenge over perceived slights.

At 4: 30 p.m., the jury sent a note to Judge Dennis M. Sweeney asking two questions focusing on the intent issue: "If person A contracts with person B for revenge with no expectation of death, is the person guilty of first-degree murder" and "If a person who contracts with another person for revenge knew that death was a possible outcome of the revenge are they guilty of first-degree murder if death is the outcome?"

Sweeney responded no to the first question and then referred them to written instructions on the legal requirements for homicide and first-degree murder.

Although jury members gathered around television cameras waiting outside the courthouse, none would comment on their decision. The forewoman, who refused to give her name, would only say they did the best they could.

The Raras trial had several dramatic moments. A friend of Tickles testified last week that Tickles had told her a co-worker was paying him $2,000 to $3,000 to be an assassin and kill a woman in the suburbs.

That friend, Tanisha Hodge, 26, rented Tickles a car on Nov. 14, 1998, she testified, and he returned a few hours later in a "hyper state" -- with blood on his boots.

Hodge and Tickles then went to a park in Northeast Baltimore, where they burned his bloody boots. In August, when police arrested Raras and Tickles, Hodge led investigators to the park, where they recovered a heel of one of the charred boots. It matched a bloody boot stain on the floor of Sara Raras' home on Elkridge Court.

Jurors also heard Raras' own words during a police interrogation after her arrest in August. On that tape, Raras denied hiring Tickles to kill Sara Raras, saying she only wanted him to seek revenge.

"In fact, I thought he's not going to kill her," Raras told detectives. "Because he told me he is just going to stone the house. As a revenge. For me."

Anger described on tape

On the tape, Raras cries and describes her anger at her daughter-in-law for perceived slights. She was upset that Sara Raras wouldn't accept her help during her pregnancy. Raras thought her daughter-in-law was bad-mouthing her behind her back.

At one point, the 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.

Later, Raras seemed upset during the divorce and custody battle between her son, Lorenzo, and Sara Raras, who was killed weeks before a scheduled divorce hearing in Howard County Circuit Court.

Several of Raras' co-workers testified that they saw Raras and Tickles talking together. Prosecutors presented bank statements that showed Raras withdrew $2,500 in cash days after Sara Raras was killed. During the next few weeks, Tickles made several cash deposits into his bank account.

Police got their first break in the case months after Sara Raras' death when a Baltimore County jail inmate called detectives, reporting that one of his cellmates was bragging about a murder.

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