Witness thought Janet Abaroa committed suicide
Posted May 3, 2013
Durham, N.C. — Some members of Raven and Janet Abaroa's Durham church initially thought that she killed herself on the night of April 26, 2005, a member of their church testified Friday in his first-degree murder trial.
"Everyone knew – the assumption was that it was a suicide and that (Raven Abaroa) came home and that she was dead," Michael Guzman, a Durham software development professional and home teacher for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said.
That's why an April 27, 2005, conversation, he said, stood out to him in which Raven Abaroa told Guzman on the deck of a fellow church member's home that he exchanged words with his wife before she died.
"(Raven) said he came home and went upstairs and found Janet on the floor, and he immediately grabbed her," Guzman testified. "I believe he said to me that she had asked him, 'Why am I hurting so bad?' and his response to her was, 'I don't know.'"
"I wasn't going to ask any probing questions," Guzman continued. "I was there just as a shoulder to lean on."
Guzman, who had visited the couple at their home the previous evening, said Raven Abaroa spent much of the day sleeping and crying and calling relatives.
"He was very tired that day, very out of it," Guzman said. "I don't really know how to put in words his behavior. Most of the things that were said I didn't understand. They just didn't make any sense."
It was later on April 27, 2005, that Guzman and other church members found out that Janet Abaroa's death was being investigated as a murder.
An autopsy found the 25-year-old had been stabbed three times and that the fatal wound was to the neck.
Raven Abaroa, 33, who was arrested in the case nearly five years later, has denied any role in his wife's death, saying that he was at a soccer game and found her dead on the floor in their upstairs office when he returned home after 10:30 p.m.
Defense attorneys have said that investigators focused only on their client as a suspect and ignored evidence, including a fingerprint found in the office closet, a blood stain found on a door with unknown DNA and a bloody shoe print next to Janet Abaroa's body.
Prosecutors, however, told jurors during opening statements that the evidence will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Raven Abaroa is guilty of murder, but they have offered no motive for the crime.
A court document filed last month claims Janet Abaroa feared her husband and his temper and that she confided to family and friends that she thought he might have bipolar disorder.
That wasn't the image of the couple that people like Guzman had.
"They appeared like a happy young family," he said.
Several other witnesses echoed his testimony, including Dawn Eckhoff, who babysat for the Abaroas' 6-month-old son, Kaiden.
"In the short time we knew them, they seemed to be a happy couple and good parents," she said.
In fact, she said, it wasn't uncommon for the two to stay in the evenings to talk after picking up Kaiden.
"Raven talked a lot," her husband, Gregory Eckhoff, testified.
Janet Abaroa was often quiet and "submissive" when they were together, he added.
"Raven was definitely more talkative," her longtime friend, Jeffrey Bickert, said. "I guess he kind of led conversations."
Bickert, who went to high school with Janet Abaroa and married her sister in 2009, described her as someone who was outgoing and fun and loved to joke and tease.
But on a visit to their home in February 2005, he said, she had changed.
"I remember that one night when Raven was not there, she seemed to be more of her normal self, where she was joking around and laughing about things," Bickert said.
Several witnesses also testified that the Abaroas appeared to be having financial troubles.
Raven Abaroa didn't have a steady job and was worried that he would be laid off, they said.
"Raven seemed to like money," Dawn Eckhoff said. "He was always looking for a job that would give him more money."
In early 2005, she said, Raven Abaroa talked about possibly selling his truck or motorcycle for money. On another occasion, he talked about finding a cheaper place to live but ended up renegotiating his lease.
Landlord Peter Greijn worked with them on a new lease, he said, because they were good renters and seemed to be nice people.
"Because of the little baby and their situation, I considered, OK, we can probably do something," he said.