Sentence of 13 years imposed in killing

Honduran immigrant, 29, enters guilty plea

Columbia

March 09, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A 29-year-old Honduran immigrant, who told Howard County authorities that he took part in a fatal stabbing last year in Columbia only because an acquaintance threatened to kill him if he refused, pleaded guilty yesterday to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Jerman Avelar's contention - that he stabbed 40-year-old Rigoberto Zavala on orders from a man who admitted killing at least six other people in their native Honduras - was the driving force behind yesterday's plea deal, which limited Avelar's exposure to prison time, while still assuring a murder conviction, Howard prosecutors said.

Avelar's statements to authorities, which were central to the case, raised a potentially potent defense - that the crime was committed under duress, prosecutor Brendan Clary said. That claim could have resulted in a manslaughter conviction and a much shorter sentence, Clary told Howard Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr.

And prosecutors believe that the man Avelar said he feared, Elmer Antonio Galvan-Giron, 33, was the "driving force behind this episode," Clary said.

"We felt this was an appropriate and just outcome," he said. State sentencing guidelines recommended a sentence of 12 to 20 years for Avelar.

Galvan-Giron, who roomed with Zavala in the 6500 block of Quiet Hours in Columbia, is charged with first-degree murder. His case is scheduled for trial June 1, and prosecutors said they plan to seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, if he is convicted.

Avelar, Galvan-Giron and Marcus T. Moran were charged with murder after Zavala was found on his apartment kitchen floor Aug. 12. A medical examiner determined that Zavala had been stabbed about 15 times, and investigators found a trail of blood leading from the bedroom to the body.

Moran, 31, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter last year and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Investigators later learned that Zavala had hit one of Galvan-Giron's children in the head with a remote control a few days earlier, prosecutors said. The "discipline" had angered Galvan-Giron, who told Avelar he was going to kill Zavala, prosecutors said.

The night of the killing, Avelar said, he had been out drinking with Galvan-Giron, but went home. When Galvan-Giron called him and told him to come back out, Moran and Avelar, who lived together in the 9600 block of White Acre Road, drove to his apartment.

It was while they were driving around that Avelar said Galvan-Giron held a knife and threatened him, prosecutors said. When they got back to the Quiet Hours address, Avelar said Galvan-Giron pulled him from the car and forced him inside at knifepoint, prosecutors said. Moran was told to wait in the car, Avelar told authorities.

Avelar said Galvan-Giron struck first, stabbing Zavala, a laborer with three teen-age children, while he was sleeping, prosecutors said. Galvan-Giron then handed him a knife and told him he would kill him if he did not participate in the stabbing, Avelar told authorities.

Yesterday, Avelar hung his head as prosecutors read an account of the killing into the record.

"Yes, yes. I apologize for what I did. I apologize," he told Kane through an interpreter.

Clary said that Zavala's mother, who lives in their native El Salvador, is "devastated" and "particularly haunted by the details of her son's death."

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