DEBARY, Fla. — A Florida teenager who strangled his mother and buried her body beneath a church’s fire pit over a bad grade was sentenced Friday to 45 years in prison.
Gregory Logan Ramos, 17, of DeBary, pleaded guilty last month in the Nov. 2, 2018, death of 46-year-old Gail Elaine Cleavenger. He was charged with first-degree murder, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence.
Two of Ramos’ friends, Dylan Ceglarek and Brian Porras, still face charges of accessory after the fact for helping Ramos cover up the crime. Like Ramos, Ceglarek, 19, and Porras, 20, are charged as adults. Both were 17 at the time of the crime.
“This was a tragedy beyond understanding,” Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said in a statement last month. “May Gail Cleavenger rest in peace. Thanks to the deputies, detectives and prosecutors who worked so hard on this difficult case.”
Ramos, who was 15 when he killed his mother, will be eligible for a review and the possibility of parole after 25 years in prison. He faces the possibility of remaining on probation for the rest of his life.
He would have faced life in prison if the case had gone to trial.
“Of all the work that I’ve done, he is probably one of the top three sociopaths that I’ve ever come across,” Chitwood said at a 2018 news conference held after the teen’s arrest. “He was a soulless individual who thought he was the smartest person in the room.
“He also stated to us that he believes he deserved a Grammy for the way he performed with the 911 call.”
Ramos’ attorney, Matt Phillips, told WFTV in Orlando following the plea hearing that his client is sorry for what he’s done.
“He’s extremely remorseful and he regrets his actions every day,” Phillips said. “He’s trying to be productive while in custody here and did option a high school diploma through the Volusia County School Board through University High.”
The West Volusia Beacon reported that Ramos, who was a Boy Scout prior to his arrest, was also a member of the Orange City Police Explorers, a program for children interested in law enforcement careers. Ramos told investigators he wanted to be a homicide detective when he grew up.
He had attended an Explorers event at the Volusia County Fair and Youth Show hours before he killed his mother, Chitwood told reporters in 2018.
According to Volusia County court records, deputies responded the afternoon of Nov. 2, 2018, to Cleavenger’s home on a call of a burglary. When they arrived, they found Ramos, who told them he’d come home from school and found their home ransacked.
Cleavenger was gone but her tan Toyota van was in the driveway, unlocked and with the engine running, a criminal complaint stated.
A side door of the house had been forced open, and deputies found a blood droplet just inside the front door.
Investigators went to Cleavenger’s workplace, Rhodes and Brito Architects, where co-workers said she had not shown up that morning. They called her midmorning to check on her, but her cellphone went straight to voicemail.
Cleavenger’s family told detectives Ramos was the last person to speak to or see her, the documents stated.
Ramos told deputies he had last seen his mother around 6:30 that morning as he left for class at University High School in Orange City. He said she was missing when he got off the school bus at 3:45 p.m.
Detectives noticed, however, that Ramos had fresh scratches around his nose and under his eye.
“When asked, Gregory advised he was injured during a fight at school with his friend ‘Dylan,’” the arrest affidavit stated.
Investigators overheard the teen’s stepfather, Daniel Cleavenger, ask him about the scratches. Ramos told him he’d fallen down a flight of stairs at school.
“After hearing a different explanation, detectives asked Gregory again how he was injured, to which he stated, ‘I got into a fight with my friend Joel, but everything is fine now. We made up,’” the court documents stated.
Ramos claimed his mother had dropped him off at school around 7 a.m. that day and that he attended all his classes before taking the bus home. When investigators contacted school officials, however, they learned that he’d checked himself out around 1 p.m. and had not gotten on the bus that afternoon.
Investigators began questioning Ramos about his activities of the night before, at which point he admitted getting into an argument with Gail Cleavenger over a “D” grade in one of his classes. He said his mother grounded him and he went to bed.
Listen to Sheriff Mike Chitwood talk about Ramos’ arrest below.
Chitwood said Daniel Cleavenger, who was out of state at the time of the killing, spoke to his wife on the phone later that night, the Beacon reported. They discussed Ramos’ bad grade during that conversation.
Ramos told detectives he later snuck his cellphone, which had been taken away due to a previous discipline issue, out of his parents’ room and called friends to come pick him up. He said he and his friends stole his parents’ van and hung out at the fire pit at River City Church, about a mile from his house.
He was back in his bedroom before his mother woke him for school, Ramos said.
The teen said that he met up with his friends and they left school early, getting cash from Ramos’ home before going back to the church to hang out. When he arrived home at his usual time, he found his mother’s van running but unoccupied, he said.
Ramos’ family identified Caglarek as the Dylan the teen referred to in his interview, court documents said. They described the boys as best friends, but when investigators talked to Caglarek, he minimized his relationship with Ramos, calling him his math tutor.
Caglarek initially said he’d last seen Ramos during lunch at school. He denied seeing Ramos after school and said he left school with Porras before going to work in nearby Sanford that afternoon.
When confronted with inconsistencies in his statement, however, Caglarek admitted that he’d left school with both Porras and Ramos.
“Dylan eventually admitted he and Brian picked Gregory up on the way to school around 0615 hours this morning, and on the way to school, Gregory told them he killed his mother,” the affidavit stated.
According to detectives, Caglarek told them he and Porras left school early with Ramos to help him stage the burglary at his home. Ramos gave the teens items to hide at their homes so it would appear the items had been taken during the break-in.
Caglarek told investigators additional items were hidden in the woods behind the church, including a rifle, and still more items had been tossed into a dumpster behind a Winn-Dixie supermarket in Deltona.
The teen initially denied knowledge of Cleavenger’s whereabouts but ultimately told detectives her body was in the woods near the church’s fire pit.
When authorities searched Caglarek’s home, where he lived with his grandparents, they found some of the “stolen” items hidden in the boy’s closet, court records stated. In the dumpster in Deltona, deputies found a printer, a radio and a DVD player.
He also led detectives to the rifle and several electronics, including a Playstation 4 game console, that the teens had hidden in the woods behind the church.
“Upon arrival, Dylan walked detectives toward the woods and through a path to a fire pit area,” the affidavit stated. “Dylan advised detectives the fire pit area is where Gregory buried his mother.
“While near the fire pit, Dylan advised around 1500 hours, when they were hiding the property in the woods, he remembered seeing drag parks coming from the parking lot area down to the pit.”
The teen apologized for lying to the detectives and said he didn’t want anyone to get in trouble.
Investigators then went to Porras, who initially denied knowledge of a burglary or that he’d given Ramos and Caglarek a ride to or from school. Before long, he began telling them “bits and pieces of truths.”
“Detective Johnson then informed Brian this was a homicide investigation, and Brian asked detectives to tell him what they know and he will tell the truth,” the court records stated.
The teen told investigators he’d given Ramos a ride to and from school, and that on the way to Ramos’ house that afternoon, Ramos had been acting “very weird and shaken.”
“Brian, Dylan and Gregory go inside the residence, where Brian advised it looked like a hurricane blew through,” the affidavit stated. “Brian then stated Gregory requested they help him get rid of some property. At this point, Brian stated Gregory disclosed he killed his mother.”
Read the entire affidavit for Gregory Ramos’ arrest below.
Porras told detectives he didn’t believe Ramos at first but agreed to hide and get rid of items to stage a burglary. Aside from the items found in the dumpster, the teens had discarded a gun case, laptops and a box of property behind River City Church.
“Brian said Gregory also discarded the clothing he was wearing because he was wet from submerging the box in a nearby pond,” the documents stated.
After learning that his friends had talked to investigators, Ramos confessed to killing his mother.
The teen claimed that the argument over his grades turned physical when his mother struck him in the face. He went into his room but re-engaged her around midnight.
“As the argument was taking place, Gregory began to strangle Gail with his hands and forced her from the bed onto an area of the floor/wall,” the arrest affidavit stated. “Gregory advised he believed it took him nearly 30 minutes (to kill her).”
After the initial strangling, Ramos got a wheelbarrow and took it back to where his mother lay.
She was “still alive and moving on the floor, so Gregory jumped on top of her and strangled her until he was sure she was dead,” he told investigators.
The teen told authorities he killed his mother because he believed she would kill him sometime in the future, according to court documents.
Ramos bound his mother’s feet and used the wheelbarrow to get her body to the van, where he loaded her into the cargo area. He then returned to the house and staged the burglary.
He told detectives he drove to Deltona, where he got rid of the wheelbarrow but kept his mother’s body in the van. He then went to the church, where he buried her body and hid some items he’d already removed from the house.
“Gregory then went home and got ready to go to school,” the affidavit stated.
The rest of Ramos’ statement matched what Caglarek and Porras had already told detectives.
Chitwood said following the teens’ arrests that the case was one of the most disturbing he’d worked in his career.
“All our hearts break for this family. The deputies and detectives who worked through the night and into the morning gave this case absolutely everything they had, and I hope the family knows that Gail has all of us fighting for justice for her,” the sheriff said. “God bless Gail Cleavenger and all who knew and loved her.”
Cox Media Group