Not only did Gail Cleavenger’s sister forgive the young man who helped cover up Cleavenger’s murder, she thanked him.
“Thank you. Thank you for cooperating with the Sheriff’s Office and the prosecutor’s office, even though I know you were afraid,” Ivy Wick told Dylan Ceglarek in court Feb. 8. “Thank you for telling the truth, even if it came out in bits and pieces, because, without you, the police would not have found my sister that night.”
Wick said Ceglarek’s cooperation with police was instrumental in officers finding her sister's body behind a church in DeBary. Cleavenger, a 46-year-old DeBary resident, was strangled Nov. 1, 2018, by her then-15-year-old son, Gregory Ramos.
Ramos pleaded guilty and is serving a 45-year prison term.
Ceglarek and another friend, Brian Porras, were 17 when, according to the Sheriff’s Office, Ceglarek, Ramos and Porras left University High School in Orange City early the day after the murder to help Ramos cover up the crime by staging a robbery at Cleavenger’s home.
“I am sorry. I am sorry for my involvement in this case, sorry for the loss of Gail, sorry for all the heartache the family has gone through, I’m sorry for all of it,” Ceglarek told the court Feb. 8.
Detectives questioned Ceglarek Nov. 2, 2018 after elements of Ramos’ story — that he had come home to find the house ransacked, items stolen, and his mother’s car still running in the driveway — didn’t add up.
Ceglarek initially stuck with the robbery story, but soon confessed, and led detectives to the fire pit behind a DeBary church where Cleavenger was buried, and to items from the home Ramos had asked Ceglarek and Porras to hide.
Ceglarek’s confession was used to confront Ramos, who told detectives he strangled his mother to death, buried her body, and staged a robbery.
In January, Ramos pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, abuse of a dead body, and tampering with a crime scene.
“Thank you for doing what was right, even though you knew you would be in trouble,” Wick told Ceglarek.
Ceglarek’s co-defendant, Porras, still faces a charge of accessory after the fact to a capital felony. Unlike Porras, Ceglarek has remained in jail since November 2018, unable to post a $200,000 bond.
He was released Feb. 8, after 816 days in custody.
The State Attorney’s Office offered Ceglarek a lesser charge of accessory after the fact to second-degree murder, credit for time served, and 10 years of probation, with adjudication withheld (in other words, no finding of guilt). Ceglarek pleaded no contest to the charge.
If the Ramos case had gone to trial, Ceglarek would have been a witness for the state, another reason the State Attorney’s Office offered a lighter sentence.
“I know this is incredibly difficult for you,” Wick told him, turning from the court podium periodically to address Ceglarek directly. “I know you don’t have many people that you trust. I know that you were feeling so low that before this happened, you had contemplated suicide. If you think I couldn’t possibly know how you feel, or if you think that the world would be better off without you in it, you're wrong.”
According to the State Attorney’s Office, Ceglarek had expressed suicidal ideation to officers on the evening the crime was discovered. Worries about his mental health, and about the strength of his support network outside of custody, were the main reasons Ceglarek was first denied bond. He later was given a $200,000 bond 10 months into his custody, an amount double that of Porras’, who had bonded out after one day in jail.
“If you think you are undeserving of happiness, you are wrong,” Wick told Ceglarek. “If you think you can’t stand the overwhelming sense of loneliness and despair, hold off. Something better is about to happen.”
Ceglarek faces 10 years of probation, without the possibility of early termination. He will undergo substance-abuse and mental-health evaluations, and will be subject to random drug screening.
If he violates his probation in any substantial way, Judge Upchurch told him, he could face, at minimum, 34-and-a-half months in prison.
Judge Upchurch repeated a sentiment she had told him nearly a year-and-a-half ago, when bond was initially set.
“I truly believe every person walking on the planet ... has suffered from a mental-health problem,” she said. “There is no shame in that — it’s very important that you hear that message. The shame in having a mental-health problem is not recognizing it, the shame is suffering through it alone.”
Wick also encouraged Ceglarek to lean on others.
“Today you have choices,” she told him. “Choose your friends wisely. Ask for help when you need it. Take this second chance and work on yourself. You can rise above your circumstances.”
“When you are processed out today, you should leave knowing that Gail thought you were worthy,” Wick said. “She did not hate you. She did not think you were a horrible person, and I don’t think that either.”
Wick turned to face Ceglarek, who was seated at the defendant’s table.
“You are forgiven,” she said. “You are deserving of better than what you have had. You are smart, you are capable; you have a future. You are not defined by your actions of Nov. 2, 2018. You are defined by what you choose to do from this day forward.”