By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 30, 2009; B03
The third and final person linked to the beating and burning death of an 83-year-old Wheaton woman received five years in prison Tuesday, a sentence handed down by a judge who said she was lucky to have gotten an earlier plea deal.
"There is no question in my mind that your client would have been convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree and would have faced a life sentence," Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Paul Weinstein told the attorney for Ana Rodas.
Rodas, 33, was sentenced for trying to conceal the murder after it happened, and five years was the maximum penalty available to the judge. Earlier, her husband, Jose Alvarado, and his cousin, Ramon Alvarado, both received sentences of life in prison without the chance of parole.
The case involved one of most brutal killings in recent memory in Montgomery County. Thirteen months ago, Ramon Alvarado forced his way into the home of Lila Meizell. He repeatedly slammed her head against the wooden part of a sofa and then doused her with gasoline and set her on fire while she was still alive. At the time, Jose Alvarado was waiting outside the house in a van, having driven his cousin to Meizell's house and discussed the killing with him.
Meizell, a vibrant woman who still went dancing with her boyfriend, befriended the Alvarado cousins, who had worked in her yard. The cousins conspired to kill her after Jose Alvarado altered a check she had written to him, changing it from $75 to $7,500. He deposited the check and bought a new computer, clothes and a used Volvo. Jose Alvarado paid his cousin $1,000 to kill Meizell.
Rodas's role in the crime was a matter of debate between prosecutors and her attorney, Andrew Jezic. While talking to detectives, Rodas indicated that before the killing, she came up with the idea of burning Meizell's house to hide any evidence. The cousins made similar statements to detectives.
Jezic said his client had made many denials of involvement in planning the killing during questioning but had become confused. He also hired a Florida psychologist whose evaluation of Rodas called into question any admission of such planning.
The psychologist, I. Bruce Frumkin, noted that she was poorly educated, having left school in the fourth grade while growing up in rural El Salvador. She immigrated to the United States and received a work permit, making her a legal resident, but spent little time outside her Silver Spring home apart from work. She was socially isolated, passive and "functions at a very low level of intelligence," making her "much more susceptible to providing false or less than accurate statements during an interrogation," Frumkin wrote.
Another reason prosecutors went along with a plea deal: Rodas's husband agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder if charges were reduced for his wife, Jezic said. The couple have two sons, 15 and 12, who are being raised by a grandmother. The older boy, Darwin, spoke at her hearing Tuesday. "We love her very much, and we miss her very much," he said, while Rodas sobbed at the defense table.
Rodas probably will be deported to El Salvador after she is released, Jezic said.
Although the cousins are expected to spend the rest of their lives in Maryland prisons, they are wanted by immigration officials for possible deportation, an indication that they are in the country illegally.