Durham, N.C. — Janet Marie Christiansen Abaroa had likely finished washing dishes and was preparing lunch for the next work day when she was killed in her Durham home on the evening of April 26, 2005 – a theory by prosecutors that starkly differs from the various accounts her husband, Raven Abaroa, told police in the 8-year-old murder investigation.
The 25-year-old's wedding rings were found by the kitchen sink – witnesses testified in his five-week first-degree murder trial that she never washed dishes with them on – and peanut butter, jelly, bread and sandwich bags were also on the countertop as if she had planned to make a sandwich.
It was likely, Durham County Assistant District Attorney Charlene Coggins-Franks told jurors Wednesday during closing arguments, that Raven Abaroa had called the new mother to the upstairs office of their home on Ferrand Drive and stabbed her as soon as she stepped into the room.
There was little indication of a struggle that night, and, besides blood spatter on the walls and a pool of blood on the floor, the room and house were undisturbed.
"She never saw it coming," Coggins-Franks said.
After the stab wound to her chest, the prosecutor said, Janet Abaroa likely fell to her knees, with her hands clutching her throat and long blond hair, when Raven Abaora, 33, approached her from behind and stabbed her in her hand and then the neck – the fatal wound.
"She fell face-down because he was behind her, and he was stabbing her that second time," Coggins-Franks said. "She pulled her own hair out trying to protect herself from her husband – the one person who's supposed to love and cherish her for all eternity."
The dozen or so family members of Janet Abaroa who were in court sat in tears as Coggins-Franks addressed the jury of seven men and five women.
Raven Abaroa, who was arrested nearly five years after the murder, has maintained that he left home for a soccer game sometime after 8 p.m. on April 26, 2005, and that his wife was in bed watching a recorded episode of General Hospital. When he returned around 10:40 p.m., he found her dead and their 6-month-old son unharmed in another room.
"(Raven Abaroa) knows what he has to do to get by with It, because he's the last person who saw her alive," Coggins-Franks said. "All he has to do is tell the truth about what parts are truthful and just leave out the part about how he killed his wife. But he couldn't do it. He kept making mistakes."
Defense attorneys, however, told jurors that it was Durham police who made mistakes at the crime scene and ignored evidence that suggested another culprit killed Janet Abaroa.
"In this case, as the evidence started pointing away, a pattern began – an eight-year pattern of explanations," attorney Amos Tyndall said.
That evidence included unknown DNA mixed with a blood stain on a door to the couple's home and an unknown fingerprint on a closet door – items that the state explained away as having been there prior to the crime.
One of the biggest pieces of ignored evidence, Tyndall said, was a computer hard drive found two weeks ago in a storage locker at the Durham Police Department.
The hard drive, he said, was indicative of the investigation and symbolized how the state dealt with evidence in the case and its willingness to capitalize on information that isn't available.
"It allowed the state, frankly, to present a dishonest picture of who Janet Abaroa was, who Raven Abaroa is and what their relationship was like," Tyndall said.
Emails from Janet Abaroa to a former boyfriend, Tyndall said, showed a strong-willed woman who felt comfortable with and trusted her husband and could do what she wanted – an image that conflicted with the prosecutors' portrayal of a broken and submissive wife who feared her controlling, verbally abusive and unfaithful husband.
But prosecutors said circumstantial evidence pointed only to Raven Abaroa and no one else.
Coggins-Franks likened the evidence as pieces to a big puzzle. Each piece of evidence, by itself, might not mean much, but when all the pieces are put together, they create a picture of Raven Abaroa being guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of murder.
There were no signs of forced entry and the only items missing were a laptop computer and a knife collection.
Clothes Raven Abaroa had been wearing that night were unaccounted for, and parts of his accounts to at least five people of what happened on the night of the crime were different.
"The evidence is clear that no witness could think of any reason why someone would want to do this to Janet," Durham County Assistant District Attorney Luke Bumm told the jury earlier Wednesday. "The only evidence you heard of anyone with ill will is evidence of the way the defendant treated her."
Neither Bumm nor Coggins-Franks offered a clear motive for the crime but said motive isn't essential under state law for a conviction.
Both, however, did speculate about a financial motive.
Raven Abaroa wanted to live a life beyond his means and was in financial straits in April 2005. He was close to losing his job and facing felony embezzlement charges that could affect his ability to live the lifestyle that he wanted. Bumm said the couple had been on church welfare, had refinanced high-end vehicles and had talked about selling them for money.
"He's not used to struggle for money," Coggins-Franks said. "It's called greed."
Raven Abaroa hadn't paid rent for two months, Bumm said, but he never failed to pay the premium on his wife's life $500,000 life insurance policy.
"All those things he wanted were slipping away," Bumm said. "Janet Abaroa dead was worth a great deal of money to him – $500,000 could end his problems financially, allow him to live the life he wanted, allow him to make a new start."