Graphic images stir emotion during Abaroa trial testimony
Posted April 30, 2013
Updated May 1, 2013
Durham, N.C. — Jurors in the trial of Raven Abaroa saw graphic video and photos Tuesday of his Durham home eight years ago – in the hours after he says he returned home to find his wife dead in an upstairs office.
The 25-year-old Janet Marie Christiansen Abaroa was lying on her back with her arms above her head, the images showed. Her T-shirt had been pulled up to expose her breasts, and a bloody palm print was clearly visible on her chest.
Walls in the office were covered with blood spatter. Otherwise, the house appeared to be a neat and orderly, as police officers described it in their testimony Monday.
In the courtroom, Raven Abaroa, 33, charged with first-degree murder, sat with his head bowed. Behind him, his family members, observing the second day of testimony, cried as crime scene investigator Donna Jackson showed jurors nearly two dozen photos of his lifeless wife.
Her family looked away from the video screen. Others left the room. At one point, Janet Abaroa's father, Val Christiansen, shielded his face from the grisly images of his daughter.
There were no obvious signs of forced entry into the home, Jackson said during her daylong testimony in which she walked the jury through the crime scene, showing them both the inside and outside of the Abaroa home as well as the Dodge Durango that Raven Abaroa had been driving.
In laying out their case on Monday, prosecutors offered no motive for Janet Abaroa's April 26, 2005, death but said that circumstantial evidence would help build a picture of why Raven Abaroa is guilty of the crime.
Prosecutor Luke Bumm likened the state's case to a puzzle.
"Each witness is a piece," he said. "It's your job to determine what the facts are and how each of one those facts, how each one of those pieces, fits into this puzzle."
Defense attorney Amos Tyndall, however, said investigators ignored evidence that might have cleared his client, including a bloody shoe print, an unknown DNA sample mixed in a blood stain on a door leading to the driveway and an unknown fingerprint from a closet in the office.
Raven Abaroa has maintained that he was at a soccer game in Morrisville when his wife was killed and that he returned home to find her crouched over on the floor and their 6-month-old son unharmed in another room.
Witnesses testified Monday that Raven Abaroa told them he turned his wife over, panicked and ran outside looking for his cellphone to call 911.
Tyndall admitted the couple had been through problems in their marriage – including infidelity by his client, an embezzlement charge against him and a brief separation – but that the Abaroas had recommitted to their relationship in the months before her death.
One witness, neighbor Lisa Sealy, however, recalled "very heated, very intense" arguments on several occasions coming from the Abaroa home, and Janet Abaroa's mother also testified that her daughter confided that Raven Abaroa verbally abused her but never hit her.
Tyndall warned jurors, however, during opening statements, to pay attention to witness testimony about the marriage, including Sealy's, and to consider that some of their stories have "completely changed" after eight years.
Raven Abaroa's trial is expected to last two to three weeks. If he's found guilty of first-degree murder, he faces life in prison.