Defense witnesses offer contrasting image of Abaroa marriage
Posted May 22, 2013
Updated May 24, 2013
Durham, N.C. — Jurors in the first-degree murder trial of Raven Abaroa, accused of killing his wife eight years ago, heard Wednesday about a starkly different relationship than the troubled one prosecutors have portrayed for the past three weeks.
Friends of the 33-year-old testified that Raven and Janet Abaroa seemed to be a playful pair that was always together laughing and joking.
"They were probably my prime example of, when I was a teenager, the kind of relationship I had hoped to have with my wife in the future," said Zach Foxley, who met the couple in 2001 when he was 15. "The influence they left on me has been lasting."
Foxley and other friends, including Raven Abaroa's best friend, Darius Neerings, said they never heard the couple argue and never saw any signs of mistreatment or problems in the relationship.
"They were a very happy couple when I was living with them," said Neerings, who stayed with the Abaroas for several months in 2003 when he moved to North Carolina.
In the years that followed, witnesses for the state have testified, financial problems and infidelity plagued the marriage, led to a brief separation in 2004 and gave Janet Abaroa serious concerns about whether she wanted to stay married.
Raven Abaroa, family and close friends of hers, said, was a controlling and verbally abusive husband feared by his 25-year-old wife, who had been broken and was only a shell of the woman she once was.
Foxley, however, said that when he saw them in February 2005 at a blessing ceremony for their son, Kaiden, it appeared nothing had changed.
"They were just the same as always," he said. "I was just impressed with the same amount of love they've always had."
About two months later, on April 26, 2005, Janet Abaroa was found stabbed to death in an upstairs office in their home. Raven Abaroa has said he returned home from a soccer game to find her crouched on the floor.
"He was completely broken up. He was how I would describe a person who is mourning a great loss and distraught and going through trauma and shock at the same time," Foxley said of a visit he had with Raven Abaroa a few weeks after Janet Abaroa's death. "He was very sad."
It was nearly five years later that Durham police arrested Raven Abaroa for the crime.
Defense attorneys have said during trial that investigators ignored evidence, failed to properly handle or preserve other evidence and focused solely on their client.
A significant portion of testimony Tuesday and also Wednesday focused on Janet Abaroa's work computer and a hard drive that had been locked away for years in an evidence locker at the Durham Police Department.
Ryan Johnson, a former Durham police computer forensics examiner, testified he put it in the locker when he left the department in December 2006.
He notified detectives last week while on business in Mexico, he said, after watching testimony from the trial online and realizing they did not have the hard drive.
Forensic examiners over the weekend found on it dozens of flirtatious email fragments between Janet Abaroa and a former boyfriend that, defense attorney Amos Tyndall said, "has essentially turned this case on its head."
The emails were dated within weeks of the crime, and Tyndall told Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson that their discovery could have affected the defense's trial strategy and how it seated the jury and cross-examined witnesses.
Tyndall has sought to show jurors that police were careless with the hard drive and failed to preserve messages on Janet Abaroa's work and personal email accounts and did not collect computer equipment from the Abaroas' home.
In one of several requests for the murder case to be dismissed Monday, Tyndall said that the state has failed to produce substantial evidence to show Raven Abaroa committed the crime.
In defending the case outside the jury's presence Monday afternoon, Assistant District Attorney Charlene Coggins-Franks told Hudson there was enough circumstantial evidence to show that Raven Abaroa had the motive, opportunity and means to kill his wife.
Not only was there evidence of financial and marital problems, she said, Raven Abaroa also pawned items in his home and rearranged furniture in the den "as if he were staging a break-in."
Coggins-Franks also said there was also a lack of evidence that pointed to the defendant. Some of the clothing he was known to be wearing has never been found. A collection of knives and a laptop computer – instruments the prosecution maintains could have been used in the killing – have also never been found.
There was little to no evidence that Janet Abaroa put up a fight before she was attacked and that she was likely killed before Raven Abaroa' soccer game and bled until he returned home, Coggins-Franks said.