The last of three men charged in the fatal beating of their roommate during a fight in a wooded area in Columbia last year pleaded guilty yesterday to second-degree murder.
The man, William D. Maldonado, said the victim, Antonio Ayala, was the first to land a blow in a scuffle that involved all four roommates, prosecutors said.
He admitted hitting Ayala with a piece of wood and with rocks before he and the other two men, cousins Marcos and Reyes Escalante, dragged Ayala to a rocky stream behind Flowerstock Row, prosecutors said.
Maldonado, a Honduran immigrant who spoke through an interpreter, said yesterday that he wanted to "declare myself guilty" when asked by Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley whether he understood his trial rights.
Prosecutors said they would seek a prison sentence within the 12- to 20-year range recommended by state sentencing guidelines. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 29.
Reyes Escalante pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in January and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
A Howard County jury found Marcos Escalante guilty of second-degree murder a month later. At his trial, he contended that he had been protecting himself against Ayala, who he said had stabbed him in the ribs. He is scheduled for sentencing before Howard Circuit Judge Lenore R. Gelfman today and could be sentenced to a maximum of 30 years.
All three shared an apartment with Ayala, a 33-year-old dishwasher and cook, and another man in the 5700 block of Stevens Forest Road, prosecutors said.
Maldonado told investigators that Marcos Escalante and Ayala had been fighting because Ayala had reported Marcos Escalante for drunken driving and unlicensed driving, prosecutors said.
All of the men were drinking in the woods, he told investigators, when Marcos Escalante and Ayala started fighting.
First, he said, Ayala struck Marcos Escalante in the back with a bottle and cut him on the back with a knife. In the ensuing struggle, Maldonado said, he and Escalante hit Ayala with the four-by-four and rocks, according to prosecutors.
Ayala was still breathing when they left him in the streambed, Maldonado told investigators.
A landscaper found Ayala's body May 20 last year, four days after the fight. A medical examiner determined that Ayala had died of blunt force injuries to his head, neck and body, prosecutors said.
Maldonado and the Escalante cousins left Maryland after the crime. Maldonado and Marcos Escalante were found in Clayton County, Ga., on June 22. Reyes Escalante was arrested three days later in Charlotte, N.C.