It was an emotional scene at the S. James Foxman Justice Center in Daytona Beach this morning, as 17-year-old Gregory Ramos was sentenced to 45 years in prison for the murder of his mother, Gail Cleavenger, on Nov. 2, 2018.
“Being the family of both the victim and the defendant has torn at the very fabric of our family identity,” Lynn Croft, Cleavenger’s eldest sister, told the court.
Cleavenger was the youngest child of six. Her mother, Ramos’ grandmother, has 14 grandchildren.
By all accounts, and from the statements read in court today, the family members have always been close. Eleven of them attended the hearing — five of them addressed the court in prepared statements. Ramos, and one of his former teachers from University High School in Orange City, also spoke.
Ramos’ uncle Joe Goretsky read a statement.
“I know we will stick together as we always do. But … I have a huge hole in my heart and my stomach, like I’ve never felt before. I can only hope that in time it will heal,” Goretsky said.
Some family members detailed the incredibly difficult process of losing a loved one, while also wrestling with their relationship with the person who killed her.
Ivy Wick, one of Cleavenger’s sisters, has legal custody of Ramos.
Despite the personal toll on her, Wick said, she moves forward for her family.
“My family needs me… I am my sister’s keeper,” Wick said. “I keep her memories … . Most importantly, I am the keeper of Gregory.”
“As I mourn the loss of not just one person, but two, the world has less depth and color, and is much less of a place because Gail is gone,” older sister Croft said.
Cleavenger was universally described by her family and others as a gregarious, caring and beautiful soul.
“She had wonderful qualities. She was beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, thoughtful and determined,” Cathy Goretsky, matriarch of the family, said.
“Her legacy will stand forever in the areas of human compassion, love and many other aspects in the minds of her family, friends and general public,” Joe Goretsky said. “Nothing said or written otherwise will ever diminish her on this Earth, or her place with God.”
He ended his statement with a quote from a 13th-century poet, Rumi: “Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”
Ramos addressed the court and his family.
“Because of my actions, I will never get to truly know my mom. Not only I stole my mother from myself, but from everybody else as well,” Ramos said. “I’ve done irreversible harm to the world.”
“Why has this happened? Why have I done this? I refuse to make excuses for myself: I can only plead for forgiveness,” he said.
Ramos ended his statement with a plea for mercy for his co-defendants, Brian Porras and Dylan Ceglarek. Ramos was 15 years old, his friends were 17 at the time of Cleavenger’s death.
Porras and Ceglarek are charged as adults with helping Ramos cover up the crime by staging a robbery at Cleavenger’s home the next day.
Porras has been out on bail since Nov. 16, 2018. Ceglarek, due to concerns about his family support system and his mental health, was originally denied bond. Later, the court set his bond at $200,000, double that of Porras’. Ceglarek has spent nearly 800 days in jails.
“I’m here today to take responsibility for my actions. I am guilty of the crimes I am charged with,” Ramos said. “I don’t deserve the mercy I’ve been shown, but today I ask that you extend that mercy to my co-defendants. They do not deserve to be incarcerated for my actions. They never realized the full extent of the crime, nor took the situation seriously until law enforcement was involved. When they were arrested, they cooperated with the police fully.
“Please send Brian Porras and Dylan Ceglarek back to their friends,” Ramos continued. “I don’t even deserve to live, yet the court has given me a second chance of life. Thank you for letting me speak today, Your Honor.”
The terms of Gregory Ramos’ plea deal were set out more than a month earlier by the attorneys for the defense and the state. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, abuse of a dead human body, and tampering with physical evidence. Under the terms of the deal, Ramos was sentenced to 45 years in state prison on the count of first-degree murder.
In the sentencing hearing Jan. 22, the judge explicitly handed down the decision.
The sentencing hearing is one of the few chances for victims, family members and the defendant to make statements in court.