Ronald Roldan sentenced to prison for 2011 disappearance, death of Bethany Decker

Ronald Roldan will serve 12.5 years in prison for the 2011 murder of his pregnant girlfriend, Bethany Anne Decker.

Roldan was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty in November to a second-degree murder charge for the abduction and death of 21-year-old Decker, who disappeared from the Loudoun County, Virginia, apartment they shared.

In victim impact statements, Decker‘s family  described a loving, brave, bold, mother of a young boy, who was looking forward to having another child.  Family members said she had spoken to them of a rocky relationship with Roldan, which included threats Roldan made to her and other family members.

When asked if he had anything to say before he was sentenced, Roldan said, “No, your honor.”

Judge Alfred Swersky approved the sentence suggested in the plea agreement between prosecutors and the defense — 40 years, with all suspended except 12.5 years, which Roldan will serve.

Roldan recently told detectives how Decker died

Last month, for the first time — a month after he had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder —  Roldan told detectives how Bethany Decker died.

During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Detective Mark Bush, with Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office described information Roldan offered in a Jan. 9 recorded interview at the county detention center.

The proffer session, designed to provide information for Decker’s family as part of the plea agreement, was also attended by prosecutors and Roldan’s attorneys.

On Jan. 29, 2011, during a conversation in the couple’s living room, Roldan became mad that Bethany Decker had requested an extra shift at the restaurant where she worked, according to Bush.

“He pushed her. She tripped over her own feet, and hit her head on the window sill,” paraphrased Bush. “He placed two fingers beneath her nose to see if she was breathing. She wasn’t, so he started disposing of her remains.”

Loudoun County Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Shaniqua Clark Nelson asked Bush if Roldan called 911, but the answer was no.

Bush explained why Roldan said he didn’t call 911: “He didn’t believe first responders would believe his version of events.”

Roldan told Bush he went to the kitchen, and retrieved a large Christmas tree disposal bag. He put Decker’s body in the bag, taped up the top, and brought it outside to the trash compactor in the apartment complex.

Bush said Roldan told him he slid open the metal door on the side of the trash compactor, put the Christmas tree bag containing Decker’s body in the compactor, then tossed other garbage bags on top.

‘Going from missing to murder’

During victim impact statements, Decker’s family members and friends described years of desperately holding out hope that she was safe, even though investigators found no physical evidence to suggest whether she was alive or dead.

Ashley Littlejohn said she “adored and idolized” her “bold and brave” older sister. When Bethany disappeared, Littlejohn, who was a high school senior at the time, said she tried to maintain hope. “I was in limbo for a year — I couldn’t mourn or else it would be over.”

Bethany’s youngest brother, Robert, said she took care of her younger siblings, who were willing to confide in her. When his sister vanished, Robert said, “I locked up — from the time I was 13 until I was 19, I didn’t feel emotions. I learned hope was bad.”

Evelyn Bayles, Bethany’s grandmother, said the family was concerned, because Roldan was “very controlling, and that included threatening her and our family.”

She described the last time Decker visited her grandparents, shortly before she vanished: “Ronald was texting her, every five seconds. She said she was going to stay the night, but when she came out of the bathroom she ran out the door, and I couldn’t stop her — I couldn’t save her,” she recounted, tearfully.

Kim Nelson, Bethany’s mother was the last witness called to the stand to describe the impact of her daughter’s death. As she walked slowly to the stand, Roldan, seated between his two public defenders, took a deep, steadying breath.

Nelson told the judge about her daughter, “I was a young mom. We were doing some growing up, together.”


She described the joy of spending time with her daughter, and her Bethany’s young son. “She just loved being a mom,” Nelson said. “At 21, she had a heart of gold.”

Bethany had confided in her mother about her relationship with Roldan, and was trying to help her daughter extricate herself.

“We were talking about restraining orders, and she said, ‘It won’t keep me safe,'” Nelson recalled.

It wasn’t until Roldan had provided details about her daughter’s death during the Jan. 9 proffer session, that Nelson realized her daughter wasn’t coming back.

“We were going from missing to murder,” Nelson said — a reality she said she was still coming to grips with.

In closing statements, prosecutors said Decker’s family had been fully briefed on, and supported the plea agreement, in part to “end the anguish of not knowing.”

In announcing his sentence, Judge Swersky said, “This is a horrific crime, and nobody in this courtroom is getting closure.”

Decker’s remains have never been found.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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