State: Abaroa murder case comes down to words, actions
Posted April 29, 2013
Updated May 6, 2013
Durham, N.C. — A Durham County prosecutor trying a man accused of killing his wife in their Durham home eight years ago was brief in his opening statement Monday, providing little detail and no motive for the slaying, saying only that the case would come down to "words and actions."
Assistant District Attorney Luke Bumm talked to jurors in the trial of Raven Samuel Abaroa for a little less than nine minutes, reminding them of their duty to listen to all the evidence against Abaroa in the April 26, 2005, death of Janet Marie Christiansen Abaroa.
The 25-year-old was found stabbed to death in the doorway upstairs in the office of the couple's home at 2606 Ferrand Drive. The couple's 6-month-old son was found unharmed in another room of the home.
"Your role in this is crucial," Bumm told jurors. "There's no eyewitness testimony in this case. There's no one who's going to sit on the witness stand to tell you they saw this happen."
The case, Bumm said, has to do with what was said and what was done by people leading up to and after Janet Abaroa's death.
"Each witness is a piece of the puzzle," Bumm said. "It's your job to determine what the facts are and how each of one those facts, each one of those pieces fits into this puzzle."
Raven Abaroa, 33, who has maintained his innocence, was arrested nearly five years after the crime. If convicted, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Although prosecutors gave no glimpse of their case on Monday, court documents filed earlier this month indicate that Janet Abaroa told friends and family that she feared her husband because he had a bad temper and that she was concerned he might have bipolar disorder. At one point, according to the document, the couple also briefly separated after Raven Abaroa admitted to cheating on her.
Evidence was overlooked, defense says
Defense attorney Amos Tyndall admitted during his 32-minute opening statement that Raven Abaroa was not perfect but that there was no evidence to suggest that he killed his wife.
Durham police, he said, focused solely on his client and ignored other evidence that might have pointed to another suspect.
"At some point, it became clear that the focus was Raven Abaroa and his past sins and his future sins and not about what was at the crime scene," Tyndall said.
Investigators found an unknown fingerprint in the closet of the office – the beginning of what Tyndall called a disregarded trail of evidence that might have cleared Raven Abaroa as a suspect in the case.
Also found at the house – a bloody shoe print next to Janet Abaroa's body and a blood stain on the door frame of the side door of the couple's home that contained unidentified DNA.
"Raven Abaroa was not a perfect man, and he's got to wear his sins on his sleeve," Tyndall said. "That certainly hurts when you're in trouble like he was, or you're suspected like he was, but it doesn't change the fact that there's a trail from that room, where there's a fingerprint they can't identify and a bloody shoe print from a shoe that Raven Abaroa wasn't wearing and that there's a blood stain on the south side door that excludes Raven Abaroa."
Tyndall also said that there had been more than a dozen auto and home break-ins in the Abaroas' neighborhood prior to Janet Abaroa's death, including a car break-in the night of the crime, where a jar of coins in the car was disturbed.
Police also ignored, Tyndall said, evidence of a K-9 dog leading investigators to a creek in front of the couple's home, where they found a coin.
Janet Abaroa spoke of verbal abuse
About three dozen members of Janet Abaroa's family, friends and former co-workers were in court wearing purple ribbons in her memory.
Testifying first for the state, Janet Christiansen said her daughter confided in her that Raven Abaroa had, at one point, left the marriage because he had been unfaithful and that, although he verbally abused her, he never hit her.
"She said that he would be up and happy and then that he would be way down," Christiansen testified. "And when he was way down, she said, 'what he did was verbally abuse me.'"
Former neighbor Lisa Sealy testified that, on several occasions, she would be at her home and could hear the couple in their home across from her involved in "very heated, very intense" arguments.
Sealy recalled that, about two weeks before the crime, she was driving home and saw Janet Abaroa holding on to the hood of the couple's Dodge Durango while Raven Abaroa was driving the car.
"That was unusual to me," she said, noting that both the Abaroas laughed off the situation and said they were just kidding.
"I was just concerned, because it was abnormal behavior, especially with the arguments I had heard," Sealy said.
Witnesses said they heard no arguments on the night of Janet Abaroa's death, and several testified they heard nothing at all from the house.
Raven Abaroa has said 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.
911 call brings Raven Abaroa to tears
Tyndall said Raven Abaroa, initially panicked, ran from the house, confused about where he left his cellphone, and yelled for help before returning inside, locating the phone and calling 911.
Raven Abaroa sat with his head down and wiped tears from his eyes as prosecutors played the 10-minute call, in which he seemed hysterical at times and calm others.
Durham police officer Jason Williams testified that Raven Abaroa seemed "extremely composed" when he spoke with him a short time later at the couple's home.
"He appeared as if he were crying. I saw tears, but it wasn't an uncontrollable cry," Williams said. "Everything I asked him, he had an immediate response for. He was very composed. I never had any difficulty communicating with him at all."
Williams said that while he and another officer conducted a sweep of the home, he found Janet Abaroa on the floor facing a window with her arms above her head and a significant amount of blood around her head and neck.
William Benhart, a former Durham police officer, testified that blood spatter was on the computer desk and on the walls of the office. He also said he noticed that the house seemed in order and that nothing was in disarray.
Janet Abaroa had been wearing a pair of warm-up pants and a gray T-shirt that had been pulled up over her chest.
"I could see a distinctive imprint of a hand in the blood that was on her chest," Williams said.
It also stuck out to officer Christopher Baker, now a state trooper.
"It was a distinct bloody palm print on her chest," he said.
An autopsy later found Janet Abaroa died as a result of a stab wound to the throat. It also found that she had been stabbed in the chest and was in the early stages of pregnancy.