It’s common for a crime suspect to be prohibited from contacting the victim’s family, but few things about the Gregory Ramos case are common.
Ramos is the 15-year-old DeBary boy charged with strangling his mother to death and burying her behind a church, after the two had argued over a “D” grade Ramos got in school.
In Ramos’ case, the victim’s family is also his own family.
Ineligible for bond because he is charged with first-degree murder, the University High School student remains in the Volusia County Jail, under orders from the court not to contact his stepfather.
Ramos and his two 17-year-old friends — who are charged with helping him cover up the murder of 46-year-old Gail Cleavenger — made their first appearances in court Nov. 16, since it was announced that all three would be tried as adults.
First up in court was 17-year-old Brian Porras.
The State Attorney’s Office argued for no bond for Porras, or, in the case of bond, a minimum of $200,000. Porras’ lawyer, Kendell Ali of an Orlando-based firm, asked for a $15,000 bond.
Porras is the only one of the three teens who has a private attorney. His attorney argued that bond be granted based on the fact the offense Porras is charged with is not punishable by life in prison, he has no prior criminal history, and he has family in the area.
Porras was awarded a $100,000 bond, and he bonded out of jail later in the day.
Dylan Ceglarek, one of the 17-year-olds, was supposed to go next, but his attorney wasn’t present.
Ceglarek appeared and then was sent away, as the State Attorney’s Office attempted to get his attorney on the phone. Judge Dawn Nichols sent for Ramos, who has been the focus of public attention since confessing to sheriff’s deputies the day after the crime.
In the quiet courtroom, four silent, tense minutes after Judge Nichols’ call, the tell-tale sound of thick jailhouse doors unlocking signaled the approach of Ramos.
Escorted by two guards, and chained hand and foot, the 15-year-old appeared for the first time in court as an adult.
Ramos is charged with first-degree murder, and therefore is not entitled to bond. He is being represented by Matthew Phillips of the Public Defender’s Office.
Because bond was not on the table, the only discussion during Ramos’ first appearance revolved around a no-contact order for Dan Cleavenger, Ramos’ stepfather.
Although no-contact orders with next-of-kin to the victim are routine in first-degree murder cases, the unusualness of the case seems to have upended the standards.
“A no-contact order for the victim’s family is usually a standard condition, but the complication here is that the victim’s family is also the defendant’s family,” Court Communications Officer Ludmilla Lelis told The Beacon in an email.
Ramos had apparently tried repeatedly to phone Dan Cleavenger, who was out of town the night his wife died. By agreement between the State Attorney’s Office and Phillips, Judge Nichols specifically barred Ramos from further attempts at contact. Because that is his only no-contact order, Ramos can contact other family members.
Led by guards, Ramos returned for transport to the county jail.
Ceglarek’s lawyer, Michael Nappi of the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, was reached by the State Attorney’s Office shortly afterward. Nappi represented his client via speakerphone on the judge’s bench.
Ceglarek, who had no family attending the first-appearance hearing, was denied bond because of a history of being Baker Acted. Additionally, although Ceglarek has no criminal background, members of his family do.
Although Nappi argued that jail would aggravate any possible mental illnesses, Judge Nichols indicated she would like to see a mental-health service plan before allowing him to be released on bond.
“I’ll be real honest — I’m worried about you,” Judge Nichols told Ceglarek. “I don’t want to lose you.”
Ceglarek was led away in tears.
The two older boys both will turn 18 in December, before their cases come to trial.
Judge Kathryn Weston will preside over the trials of all three teens.
Ramos will enter a plea in early December.
Ceglarek and Porras have an initial trial date of Jan. 28, 2019.
At a press conference Nov. 15, in front of the Volusia County Courthouse in DeLand, State Attorney R.J. Larizza announced the grand jury’s decision to try Ramos as an adult, followed by the State Attorney’s Office decision that the 17-year-olds will also be tried as adults.
In addition to first-degree murder, Ramos is charged with abuse of a dead human body and tampering with a crime scene. Because he is a juvenile, the death penalty is not on the table.
His 17-year-old friends are charged with the first-degree felony of being accessories after the fact capital felony.
Documents heavily redacted before the decision to try the teens as adults are now available without redaction, bringing some new information to light.
At a press conference Nov. 3, shortly after the horrific crime was discovered, Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood had said Ramos’ two friends had helped Ramos bury his mother’s body beneath a fire pit behind a DeBary church. The charging affidavit, however, doesn’t back that up.
Instead, according to that document, the 17-year-olds confessed only to having helped stage a burglary at Gregory Ramos’ home the day after Gail Cleavenger was killed.
“That’s what they admitted to. There are other things that [Ramos] told us,” Chitwood told The Beacon in a phone interview. “But the charging affidavit is the bible here.”
Note: When juveniles are charged as adults, The Beacon publishes their names.