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Abaroa pleads guilty but maintains innocence in wife's 2005 death

Posted March 12

Raven Abaroa sits in a Durham County courtroom on March 12, 2014, after pleading guilty under an Alford plea to voluntary manslaughter in the April 26, 2005, stabbing death of his wife, Janet Abaroa.

— Nearly nine years after a pregnant Janet Christiansen Abaroa was found dead in her Durham home, her husband, Raven Abaroa, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a charge of voluntary manslaughter in her stabbing death, avoiding a potential life prison sentence for the crime.

01 - Janet Abaroa murder case WRAL.com archive: Janet Abaroa murder case

The 34-year-old was set to be retried next week on a first-degree murder charge after a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of a guilty verdict in his five-week trial in May.

The state offered the deal – the third in the case – late last week, Durham's chief assistant district attorney, Roger Echols, said, with Janet Abaroa's family agreeing that it was in their best interest.

Abaroa entered an Alford plea under which he was sentenced to 95 to 123 months in prison for the crime. In an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty, while maintaining his or her innocence, and admits it is in his or her best interest to plead because there is sufficient evidence of guilt.

"I didn't receive a fair trial the first time, and I don’t think I'll receive a fair trial the second time," Abaroa told Superior Court Judge Howard Manning.

"The fact is that I love my family very much, and I don’t think it's worth risking the possibility of spending the rest of my life in prison for something I didn’t do," he added. "I take this plea to ensure that that doesn't happen, and that's the only reason. I did not kill my wife."

Janet Abaroa's family said later that they weren't surprised by his remarks.

"We are disappointed that he would not accept the responsibility for this horrible act," her father, Val Christiansen, said after Wednesday's hearing. "Not only did he kill Janet, but he knowingly killed his unborn child. No amount of jail time will ever provide justice for Janet or her unborn child."

Abaroa, who has said he didn't know his wife was pregnant, maintains that he left his Ferrand Drive home for a soccer match on the night of April 26, 2005, and returned a few hours later to find Janet Abaroa crouched on the floor in their upstairs office and their 6-month-old son, Kaiden, crying in his crib.

An autopsy found she had been stabbed three times in her left hand, chest and neck – with the fatal wound being in the neck. She was likely in the very early stages of pregnancy.

Durham police arrested Abaroa in February 2010 in Idaho, where he and Kaiden were living at the time.

Abaroa's prison sentence of 8 to 10 years – with credit for time served – means he could be released as early as 2018.

During Wednesday's hearing, Christiansen, said one of the most difficult and long-lasting effects of the crime was that Kaiden – now 9 years old and living with his paternal grandmother in Utah – never got to know his mother or his baby brother or sister. Janet Abaroa, he said, was also denied the experiences of motherhood.

"Janet missed Kaiden's first steps, missed out on hearing his first words. She missed out on being called 'mommy,'" Christiansen said. "Janet will never get to enjoy watching her son thrive as he matures."

Erica Bakey described her older sister as a kind, loving and fun person whose death inflicted pain on all who loved and cared for her.

"One of the questions I ask myself over and over, is 'Why kill her?' Bakey told Abaroa. "Why not just get a divorce? Why not just leave her? Why not just leave her to us? She had so much to live for, and you cut that short. When you took Janet's life, you took a part of me, my family and all who loved her."

Abaroa's defense attorney, Amos Tyndall, said many of the facts presented by prosecutors in the case were true but that some were also either "highly contested" or untrue.

"Mr. Abaroa shares a lot of what Mr. Christiansen said," Tyndall told Manning. "He's always stated that to us – how much he misses Janet and how much he loved her – and he has always maintained his innocence."

Tyndall contended during Abaroa's trial that police only focused on him as a suspect and ignored or explained away any evidence that could have helped identify another culprit in the case.

Durham County Assistant District Attorney Charlene Coggins-Franks said it's likely that Janet Abaroa had been making lunch for the next day when her husband called her into their upstairs office on the night of her death and killed her.

The couple had been having "extreme financial difficulties" Coggins-Franks said, and it was "very apparent" that the type of life Raven Abaroa wanted to live "was going to change extremely."

He was already facing embezzlement charges from stealing from his job and had been having trouble in his marriage.

"Although Janet and Raven appeared to be happy, Raven was, for lack of a better word, a womanizer," she said.

During his first trial, the state portrayed Raven Abaroa as a controlling and verbally abusive husband who not only cheated on his wife but had a penchant for spending money.

Witnesses testified that Janet Abaroa feared her husband, his temper and wild mood swings.

"In that trial, we saw the dark side of the defendant," Christiansen said. "He was exposed for what he really is – an embezzler, a convicted felon, a sexual predator and a narcissistic, self-absorbed individual."

LaVerte Dowd and her family befriended the Abaroas years before the crime when the young couple lived in Smithfield, Va. They remained close after they moved to North Carolina.

"Janet, in our experience, was loving and quiet and kind and gentle – all those things that we want to emulate," she said during Wednesday's hearing.

"Janet loved Raven," she added. "She was willing to overlook his infidelities, his embezzlement and his controlling nature. She wanted her marriage to work because she loved him and valued marriage. He threw that away like it was yesterday's garbage, as though it was worth nothing."

27 Comments

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  • SmileAndNod Mar 18, 9:00 a.m.

    I'm wondering why she would get pregnant again by a man they described as being so negative and if they had financial difficulties. Maybe there is more to this story.

  • JustOneGodLesThanU Mar 13, 12:06 p.m.

    Too bad the judge didn't reject the plea and order both sides to trial. What's the point in accepting a guilty plea with the defendant stating he's innocent?

  • cocker_mom Mar 12, 6:02 p.m.

    Is anyone but me tired of "the Alford plea"? Plead guilty or don't - I don't care- but stop giving people this cop out thing that says "I'll cop to the crime, but I still didn't do it - but acknowledge that I would likely be convicted" HUH? It just seems unfair to everyone and the person taking the plea gets to claim innocence forever - like he/she did the state some sort of favor by taking this plea- even though he/she is not guilty.

    Just. Don't. Like. It.

  • kat4eagles Mar 12, 5:27 p.m.

    I saw this comment elsewhere, but it stood out for me. Why did the state offer a plea when the last trial was 11-1 Guilty?
    Odds are they would have got a conviction this time.

  • In Decisive Mar 12, 2:45 p.m.

    He's absolutely guilty (and by taking the plea he admitted as much) but this is a total... View More

    — Posted by In Decisive

    I asked down below, but ... was there any real evidence? Like the Cooper trial, there may not... View More

    — Posted by Alexia

    Did you watch the first trial? I'm guess you did not and like many, just rely on media headlines and articles for information. There was evidence, though circumstantial, since there was no eye witness to the murder and no video of the murder and no confession to the murder. Eleven jurors out of 12 in the trial determined Aboroa was guilty based on the evidence they saw at trial. Evidence is either direct or circumstantial. Both are considered equal in the eyes of the law. Both are considered "real" (to use your words). Not all murders have blood evidence that forms a trail leading with a nice big red arrow to the killer.

  • arthouse Mar 12, 2:39 p.m.

    sad
    sad
    sad
    No Justice for Janet!

  • arthouse Mar 12, 2:33 p.m.

    He's guilty as sin and those of us who knew them know that he did it. He was an abusive control freak! Janet was a good person and a loving mother who deserves justice. Sad!

  • bluecharger Mar 12, 2:29 p.m.

    @sheisacoward....(like your user id - interesting to say the least)...from your post I am... View More

    — Posted by dollibug

    And you watching these episodes of "As the Justice System Turns" won't EVER do the injury you say you've experienced at the hands of the system any good whatsoever. What happens inside you when you watch something like this and aren't convinced of a person's guilt, but the jury comes back with a conviction? I understand innocent people get implicated in bad things, but that's why we have the jury system; to give a person the benefit of their peers' oversight and collective reasoning power. But for all that, juries ARE a carpshoot, and sometimes they get it wrong. Which is where all the appeals come in. For me, I'll take a judge any day. My faith in the overall reasonableness and honesty in any 12 citizens is near to nil, and I'll take judgement from someone whose reasonableness has been proven in law school, elections by thousands, or appointment by other presumably reasonable persons. One should never make a steady diet of watching this mess.

  • Alexia Mar 12, 2:23 p.m.

    He's absolutely guilty (and by taking the plea he admitted as much) but this is a total... View More

    — Posted by In Decisive

    I asked down below, but ... was there any real evidence? Like the Cooper trial, there may not have been any real evidence at all. Just because he's the husband does not mean he killed her.

    We really should have some physical evidence: scratch marks, blood, something...

  • In Decisive Mar 12, 2:14 p.m.

    He's absolutely guilty (and by taking the plea he admitted as much) but this is a total sweetheart deal for him and he knows it.

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