- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An immigrant from El Salvador was sentenced Monday to two consecutive life terms plus 30 years for beating an 83-year-old woman and setting her on fire while she was still alive.

Ramon Alvarado, 33, was convicted last month of murder, arson and conspiracy in the death of Lila Meizell of Wheaton. Ms. Meizell had employed Alvarado and his cousin, Jose, as landscapers. Prosecutors said the cousins plotted Ms. Meizell’s murder after Jose Alvarado added two zeros to a $75 check Ms. Meizell had given him and then became fearful the theft would be discovered.

Jose Alvarado pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and testified against his cousin. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 22. Ramon Alvarado, whose first life term carries no possibility of parole, was paid $1,000 to carry out the murder, prosecutors said.

“The inhumane manner you chose to exterminate a lady well into the autumn years of her life suggests that you are sadistic,” Montgomery County Circuit Judge Terrence J. McGann said.

Public defender Alan C. Drew said the defense would appeal. They contend Jose Alvarado committed the murder alone.

Asked whether he wanted to say anything, Ramon Alvarado spoke of his mother.

“I’m thinking about what my mother’s going to think of me after I get sentenced,” he said through an interpreter. “She can get quite ill.”

According to the version of events laid out at trial, Ms. Meizell was killed pre-emptively - after Jose Alvarado cashed the altered check, but before Ms. Meizell could discover it.

Jose Alvarado recruited his cousin to kill Ms. Meizell in order to cover up the fraud, prosecutors said.

Ms. Meizell, described as a generous, vibrant woman who had been employing the Alvarados to do yard work for about two years.

She met Jose Alvarado at her door on Nov. 26, 2008, when he showed up ostensibly to collect another payment.

Prosecutors said Ramon Alvarado forced his way inside and repeatedly slammed Ms. Meizell’s head against the furniture. Then he doused her and the house with gasoline, and lit a match.

An autopsy discovered soot in Ms. Meizell’s lungs and burns in her throat - indications she was breathing when she was set on fire.

At sentencing, prosecutors submitted additional photos of Ms. Meizell’s body to show the brutality of her death.

“I’m going to put them in the envelope,” Judge McGann said, “so they don’t turn anyone else’s stomach.”

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