It’s been more than three-and-half years since Gregory Ramos, then age 15, strangled his mother to death and buried her under a fire pit behind a church in DeBary. The next day, Nov. 2, 2018, he enlisted two 17-year-old friends, Dylan Ceglarek and Brian Porras, to help stage a burglary to cover up his crime.
Ramos is currently serving 45 years in state prison on the count of first-degree murder.
Finally, on July 8, the last case in this tragic saga reached a conclusion, in an emotional two-and-half-hour sentencing of the last boy, Brian Porras, now age 21.
Unlike his counterpart, Ceglarek, Porras spent only one day in jail after the murder before posting $100,000 bond, and his family immediately retained a private attorney. Porras has worn a GPS monitor and undergone random drug tests, but also completed school and started college over the past three years, and held a job.
It was partly for those reasons, his attorneys argued, that he should not have to serve any time. Instead, the attorneys asked Judge Elizabeth Blackburn of the 7th Judicial Circuit for a sentence of two years of community control, followed by 13 years of probation, with no finding of guilt.
But Assistant State Attorney Andrew Urbanak, representing the state, described what would be equitable sentencing for Ramos’ two accomplices, who had played similar roles in the cover-up. Urbanak asked that Porras be incarcerated for 828 days, followed by 10 years of probation with extra conditions, or, the exact same deal Ceglarek was given.
Ceglarek, who was represented by a public defender, was never able to post his $200,000 bond, an amount that was double that of Porras’ bond. In fact, Ceglarek spent 309 days in the Volusia County Branch Jail before he was even offered bond, because of the court’s concern about his mental health and family support system.
At the Porras sentencing, for the first time, evidence in the murder of Gail Cleavenger was heard publicly, as the lawyers made arguments and called witnesses before the judge to argue for a harsher, or lighter, sentence.
The state called Sgt. Cameron Tucker, who helped oversee the investigation and was one of the original officers who responded to a burglary call at the Cleavenger home. Tucker testified about the timeline he was able to piece together.
His testimony and other evidence clarified some misconceptions that resulted from early reports about the murder, including the idea that Ceglarek and Porras had helped Ramos move and bury his mother’s body. Instead, the two 17-year-olds became involved only early the next day, after Ramos had already buried Gail Cleavenger.
Based on interviews with all three boys, Tucker confirmed that the two friends were told by a “notably shaken” and “visibly soiled” Ramos, who also had injuries on his face, the morning after the murder, at 6 a.m., that he had great news: “I really did it; I killed my mother.”
The trio then left University High School in Orange City early that day, around 1 p.m., and took items from the Cleavenger home, which was already in disarray. Some items they hid around the fire pit, others Ceglarek and Porras took home.
Additionally, Tucker testified, Porras and Ceglarek helped obscure drag marks from where Ramos had moved his mother’s body from church parking lot to the trail leading to the fire pit. The boys returned to the Cleavenger home to continue to cause more disorder, including breaking the lock on a side door, before stopping by a 7-Eleven for a soda.
But while both Ceglarek and Porras participated in this attempt to cover up the murder, Tucker said there was a difference — who was more forthcoming with police.
“My perception is that Ceglarek was more helpful,” Tucker said. “Porras was more difficult to get details … his role and responsibility, based on my investigation, was to cover up the fact Ramos had killed his mom and he knew about it.”
According to the original charging affidavit and evidence given by Tucker, although Ceglarek was originally untruthful, he quickly came clean, leading officers to the fire pit and explaining what he knew.
While Ramos was still undergoing questioning, Ceglarek and Porras were transported in a police cruiser together to the parking lot of the church, where the short trail to the fire pit began.
Unbeknownst to them, police had put a recording device in the back seat.
An eight-minute excerpt from that tape was played for the court. It picked up after Ceglarek had shown officers the fire pit area and returned to the vehicle — in other words, the recording was made just feet away from where Gail Cleavenger’s body lay, just discovered in a shallow grave. On tape, Porras lamented that he would be grounded for “10 years.”
“I got some speakers out of it, though … I was enjoying them tonight; I had them hooked up listening to Bruno Mars,” Porras said, before breaking into a song. The pair continued to joke and sing as they saw Ramos arrive at the scene.
In court, Porras attempted to explain the levity to members of Gail Cleavenger’s family, who had gathered at the sentencing.
“I was under the impression that it wasn’t real,” Porras told them.
Three family members spoke after Sgt. Tucker’s testimony. Their impact statements were markedly more pointed than those at Ceglarek’s sentencing.
In February 2021, at Ceglarek’s sentencing hearing, Ivy Wick, sister of Gail Cleavenger and current custodian of Gregory Ramos, thanked Ceglarek and told him he was forgiven.
“Thank you for cooperating with the Sheriff’s Office and the prosecutor’s office, even though I know you were afraid,” Wick said to Ceglarek at the time.
More than a year later, in her third statement at a sentencing hearing regarding her sister’s murder, Wick had a very different message for Brian Porras.
“Brian, your only concern is yourself,” Wick said, speaking directly to Porras July 8.
“He didn’t tell the police where to find her. And he did know; he was there,” she told the court. “I wonder if he was watching TV or playing video games while my sister’s body was buried in the dirt.”
“Today he will ask you for no time in custody,” Wick said. “He tampered with a crime scene, he lied and denied and minimized his involvement. And there are consequences for those actions.”
“For every action, there’s a consequence. Eight hundred twenty-eight days: That is your consequence,” Wick said. “I have to live a lifetime without my sister. I am responsible for a 19-year-old who is spending 45 years in prison. My husband and I have to parent children who have experienced unimaginable trauma. You should have time to think about how you contributed to this tragedy.”
“My 11-year-old daughter calls me every time I leave the house alone.” Wick said. “She’s learned that sometimes when people leave, they don’t come back.”
“I have no compassion or empathy for his plight,” Joe Goretsky, Gail Cleavenger’s brother, told the court about Porras. “Walking around with an ankle bracelet and doing everything you possibly could for the last few years to not accept responsibility for his actions is not acceptable.”
“I just want people to know that regardless of the end result of this hearing, this will never end for my family. This is an open wound we have to live with for the rest of our lives,” he concluded.
“I want to say that I am very sorry for this tragedy that has happened to you,” he said.
“I was naive at the time,” Porras said. “How was I supposed to take anything — if someone said at 15 years old … There’s no way you can accept that it actually happened. Because how could somebody do that? And continue like going on? How could you? It didn’t make any sense in my head.”
He testified that he believed the items he took — a PlayStation and the speakers — were unused items that Ramos and Cleavenger were getting rid of to “clear up some space.”
Arguing for a sentence with no jail time, Porras’ attorney compared Ceglarek and Porras, noting that Porras had had to survive on his own, not being given three meals a day by the state.
After he was released on bond, Porras said, he was “forced to find a job, pay bills and grow up in a matter of a couple of weeks.”
With plans to join the military derailed, Porras started taking classes in psychology, so that he could help middle- and high-school students who struggled with mental health.
He never truly believed Ramos was serious about killing his mother, Porras said.
State Attorney Urbanak pushed back on that point.
“Your honor, we have some pretty unbelievable cases in Volusia County, going all the way back to Aileen Wuornos, going back to the Xbox murders — pretty unbelievable cases in Volusia County, tragic cases. And maybe none more so than this case,” Urbanak said in his closing argument. “Perhaps the most unbelievable thing about it is the idea that Mr. Porras did not know Gail was dead.”
The state argued for the same sentence as Dylan Ceglarek, with the same conditions and, in addition, an adjudication of guilt.
Porras’ lawyer, Kendell Ali, agreed that this case was unusual. He argued that Ceglarek, who had been denied bond for the first 309 days of his 823-day jail term, had failed to exercise his constitutional right for bond — but Porras did.
“Brian Porras shouldn’t have his life ruined because Gregory Ramos killed his mother,” Ali said. “He was naive.”
Members of the Porras family also testified, describing how the two families knew each other.
“We do talk about the loss, and we do apologize every day because it wasn’t just a stranger that we lost — it was somebody that we knew,” Gregory Porras Sr., Brian’s father, told the court. “It was somebody who is a friend of the family. This was the mother of the child who we welcomed to our home, as well.”
“I know it bothers him, and I know it brings him tears,” Gregory Porras Jr., Brian’s older brother, testified. “There’s been numerous times that we’ve cried together about it. And not just for his situation but for the loss of Gail.”
Family members described Porras as someone who was always there for his friends, who has expressed remorse since the incident, and who is trying to make something of his life.
“Brian heard someone was in need, and he ran to help them,” Stacy Blanche Rosenstein, Porras’ stepmother, said. “I don’t know what happened after that.”
“He chose to help a friend. He made a stupid mistake,” attorney Ali argued. “Incarceration has no real purpose here … he is a productive member of society — even with restrictions, he’s done more than most others choose to do.”
Ali asked the judge for two years of community control, followed by 13 years of probation.
Ali argued that the sentence proposed by the state for Porras and the state’s recommendation in Ceglarek’s case weren’t actually equal.
One difference was that the state requested adjudication, or a finding of guilt, for Porras, which the state had not requested in the case of Ceglarek. Another difference would be that Porras would serve his time in state prison, not county jail, because Ceglarek’s time was served while he was waiting to be sentenced.
Judge Blackburn said she took all the evidence into consideration, as well as the fact that Porras, unlike Ceglarek, would serve his time in state prison, not a county jail.
“That is a significantly different setting for a person of your age, with no prior criminal record,” she said.
“This court has had an opportunity in the past as a prosecutor, a criminal-defense attorney, and now as a judge … and I agree with your counsel as well as the state that this is one of most horrific and violent cases this court has ever seen,” Blackburn said. “Listening to the audio of the two of you in the back of a police car, while feet away the body of your friend’s mother was being discovered — that, frankly, in itself, shocks the conscience of this court.”
“It’s unclear to the court if the bad behavior in the back of a police car was only because of lack of maturity or if it was also the lack of willingness to accept responsibility. I will probably never know the answer to that,” the judge concluded.
In light of all those factors, Blackburn said, she set a sentence of 14 years of probation, with the first 364 days of that term to be served in the Volusia County Branch Jail on the charge of accessory after the fact to second-degree murder. Porras got credit for his one day served in jail back in November 2018.
The judge also withheld adjudication.
“You’re given an opportunity today, even though you may think going to jail is not an opportunity,” Blackburn told Porras, as he was immediately handcuffed. “You’re not going to come out a convicted felon … You can make of your future what you choose to make of it.”