Durham, N.C. — The former boss of Raven Abaroa, on trial for killing his wife eight years ago, testified Monday that Abaroa stole more than $15,000 in merchandise from the sporting goods company where he worked for more than a year.
Abaroa, 33, is charged with first-degree murder in the April 26, 2005, death of Janet Abaroa, 25, who was fatally stabbed in the couple's Durham home.
Raymond Wilson, executive director of Hillsborough-based Sports Endeavors Inc., said the company began investigating Raven Abaroa after they were notified that four employee purchases for sports equipment that he made were never paid. Upon further scrutiny, they found nearly two dozen orders valued at about $15,000 that had never been paid.
"We felt strongly there was clear embezzlement going on, and we contacted police," Wilson said. "Raven knew we were onto him, and he was trying to cover his tracks."
More than four months after Janet Abaroa's death, Raven Abaroa pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges and was sentenced to two years' probation and ordered to pay back nearly $10,000.
Durham County prosecutors haven't offered a motive for Janet Abaroa's death but told jurors during opening statements last week that every piece of evidence would be a piece of a puzzle that, when put together, would prove that Raven Abaroa killed his wife.
On Friday, witnesses testified that the couple appeared to have financial problems and that Raven Abaroa talked about possibly selling his truck or motorcycle and that he also had to renegotiate the lease of their home on Ferrand Drive for cheaper monthly payments.
At the time of Janet Abaroa's death, he was working as an admissions specialist for a Raleigh company that specializes in online courses, making about $30,000 annually, his former supervisor, Sandy Garetone testified. She said that he was also in jeopardy of losing his job if he didn't reach his sales goals.
That was after he lost his job at Sports Endeavors, where Wilson testified that he helped hire Raven Abaroa as a team sales manager at an annual salary of approximately $40,000 but that there had been some discussion before hiring him that he was "too good to be true."
"Both of us, from the get-go, felt there was something he wasn't telling us or there was something different," Wilson said.
They made him an offer, he added, because he was enthusiastic and engaging and had a soccer background – all the qualifications that they were looking for to fill the position.
But Raven Abaroa's personality on the soccer field was quite different than at work, said Wilson, who played with him on the company's team and saw him get in arguments and sometimes physical altercations with others.
At one point, Wilson said, he had to sit down with Raven Abaroa to tell him that his behavior was a poor reflection of the company.
"He was definitely a bit of a hothead. It was very different than his work personality," he said. "You know, it's a co-ed parks and recreation league, not the World Cup."
But neither Wilson nor any of the number of Raven Abaroa's co-workers who testified Monday said they ever saw anything but a normal relationship between him and Janet Abaroa. They each admitted, however, that their interactions were limited to work and the occasional company event outside work.
Others in the couple's personal lives – neighbors, the babysitter for their 6-month-old son Kaiden, and church members – have also testified that they appeared to be a normal, young married couple.
Janet Abaroa's mother, however, said that her daughter told her that Raven Abaroa abused her verbally but not physically.
A neighbor who lived across the street from the Abaroas also testified that, on several occasions, she heard "very heated, very intense" arguments coming from their home.
Defense attorney Amos Tyndall admitted to jurors during opening statements that the Abaroas had difficulty making ends meet and that his client had stolen from his employer but that because of his past mistakes, investigators focused their attention only on him and ignored evidence, including an unknown fingerprint, an unknown DNA sample found in blood and a bloody shoe print.
Tyndall said Raven Abaroa was at a soccer game in Morrisville until 10 p.m. on the night of April 26, 2005, and then made the 35-minute drive home –stopping at a convenience store for a sports drink – to find Janet Abaroa in a pool of blood in an upstairs office.
A member of the Abaroas' church testified last week that he left the couple's home that night at 7 p.m. so that Raven Abaroa could get to his 9 p.m. game.
But Jason Strange testified Monday that Raven Abaroa arrived late.
"The game was probably going on for two to three minutes before he arrived on the bench," Strange said.
There was nothing unusual, however, about his behavior, Strange added, saying that Raven Abaroa played for most of the game and then left as soon as it was over – just like he always did.