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State: Abaroa murder case comes down to words, actions

Posted April 29, 2013
Updated May 6, 2013

— 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."

Abaroa Family Janet Abaroa murder case

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.

Raven Abaroa Evidence was overlooked, Abaroa defense says

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 County Assistant District Attorney Luke Bumm Abaroa prosecution's opening statement

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.

23 Comments

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  • Lightfoot3 Apr 30, 11:25 a.m.

    “The mother's statement that her daughter said he'd never hit her speaks more volumes to me then the fact that they seperated.” – sweetlyght

    Me too. Killing someone with a knife is brutal, personal, and up close. While not impossible, I still find it incredible that someone that allegedly never hit his wife decided to kill his wife with a knife.

    “If he, in fact, was at a soccer game in Morrisville at the time of her death, there should be plenty of eye witnesses to verify his presence.” - Inter Alios

    Should be plenty of potential witnesses, but would they remember him? I’ve been to tons of soccer games this season but other than remembering people I already knew, I’d have a hard time confirming others were there even though there were others.

  • Lightfoot3 Apr 30, 11:17 a.m.

    “If there's no physical evidence, then how did this case ever get to trial?” – brassy

    Cases like Brad Cooper’s helped pave the way. The state wants to convict somebody, regardless if they’re guilty or not. They have learned that they don’t really need any true evidence, and hearsay is now allowed.

    I don’t know if this dude did it or not, but it currently looks like they don’t even have any circumstantial evidence that says he did. There’s plenty of evidence for reasonable doubt. At this point I’d vote NOT GUILTY, but let’s see what else they have…

  • dollibug Apr 30, 11:16 a.m.

    No evidence is *required to indict, try and convict a person in NC* anyone can be charged with anything at anytime....it is the way the NC Judicial System works....heck, NC allows *self initiated warrants as well*....where NO INVESTIGATION is even required....the wheels of justice continue to spin....right out of control.

  • sweetlyght Apr 30, 11:08 a.m.

    I don't think cheating and fighting makes a man a murderer. Couples fight. So far I haven't heard anything that would convince me that this man should be found guilty beyond a resonable doubt. The mother's statement that her daughter said he'd never hit her speaks more volumes to me then the fact that they seperated.

  • canucmypointofview Apr 30, 11:01 a.m.

    My question is, with all this blood downstairs and fingerprints and handprints - if he did it, wouldn't those all match up to him?

  • lissad821 Apr 30, 10:42 a.m.

    So glad this trial is finally happening. Hopefully the DA can hekp put the puzzle pieces together for the jury and they will find him guilty. I think he killed her before going to his game. How horrible another young child has to grow up without a mother because their father is too much of a coward to get a divorce. His 2nd wife left him because he was abusive to her also....shows how he really is

  • tigresspen Apr 30, 9:01 a.m.

    I am far from saying state's evidence doesn't add up or saying the defense is putting up a better case. Trying to decide about their opening. Could be great strategy by state. Defense strategy bothered me some. Honing in on the bloody fingerprint on doorjam and coin found at creek plus the dogs going to creek but no further. What do they think, the perp just disappeared into thin air at creek? Dogs lose scent in water. I wasn't overly impressed with all that. And I didn't hear a gun shot in 911 call. I did hear what I initially thought was a door being slammed then remembered about Tyndall mentioned gunshot and felt that was off also. I was very impressed with a few of state witnesses, 911 operator, Lisa Seary and Amanda Craig especially. Several pieces of that puzzle was brought out.

  • brassy Apr 30, 8:07 a.m.

    "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."

    If there's no physical evidence, then how did this case ever get to trial?

  • Inter Alios Apr 29, 6:38 p.m.

    If he, in fact, was at a soccer game in Morrisville at the time of her death, there should be plenty of eye witnesses to verify his presence. The state will have a hard time explaining away the fingerprint, the bloody shoe print and the blood smear on the rear door. There is a reason this case is as old as it is . . . it is a weak case, and the police have continued to investigate, but essentially come up empty handed. The case is being prosecuted so the prosecution can say to her family "we gave it our best shot".

  • proudmuslimexchristian Apr 29, 5:26 p.m.

    This man seems innocent to me. Hopefully he can move on and have another wife brought to him for his happiness.

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