Local News

Detective: Abaroas spent more than they made

Posted May 9, 2013 9:33 a.m. EDT
Updated May 9, 2013 8:28 p.m. EDT

— Durham prosecutors laying out their case against Raven Abaroa for the stabbing death of his wife, Janet Abaroa, spent Thursday morning questioning one of several lead detectives in the 8-year-old murder case who said he believed couple was struggling financially.

"I can say that, based on all the records I saw during this investigation, it appeared to me that they were spending as much as they were making," Durham police detective Bennie Bradlee said on the eighth day of testimony in Raven Abaroa's trial.

The 33-year-old is charged with first-degree murder in his 25-year-old wife's April 26, 2005, stabbing death. He has denied any involvement in it, saying he returned home from a soccer game to find her body.

Defense attorneys have said that police focused only on Raven Abaroa and ignored evidence that suggested someone else killed Janet Abaroa.

The state hasn't offered a clear motive for the crime but has painted Raven Abaroa as a controlling and verbally abusive husband with a penchant for spending money and who had financial problems and embezzlement charges to show for it.

During a review of financial records seized from the couple's home in 2005, Bradlee, who led the murder investigation from April 2005 until July 2005, said he took note of paperwork for four auto loans with monthly payments ranging from $123 to $356, an insurance policy valued at $500,000 for Janet Abaroa and a $1 million life insurance policy for Raven Abaroa.

Bradlee also found a check in Janet Abaroa's organizer for more than $1,100 to a bankruptcy attorney, but he never found any documentation showing the couple actually filed for bankruptcy.

He also learned from Raven Abaroa's supervisor in April 2005 that he liked high-tech "toys" and the "latest gadgets."

"She stated in conversations that she had with him that he had personal financial issues, and he said it was to the point that he had four vehicles and might have to sell one in the future, which I guess would be to free up some monthly income," Bradlee said.

Janet Abaroa's friends have testified that they didn't know much about the couple's financial struggles but knew from Janet Abaroa, a faithful Mormon, that she had struggled in her marriage and that, in the months prior to her death, she feared her husband and his temper and was concerned that he might have bipolar disorder.

"She had made a commitment with him and God, and she wanted to keep that commitment despite everything that had gone on, despite the turmoil she had been through, despite what she described as the verbal abuse and rage episodes," her sister Sonja Flood testified.

Flood said she found out about her sister's death in a phone call from her father and mother.

"They were told that she had committed suicide, and he asked me to come over and help them make sense of things and try to figure out where to go to from there," she said. "Then we were just frantically trying to figure out what was going on."

She said she found out the case was being investigated as a murder from a story in the news.

Flood also testified that, a few weeks later when Raven Abaroa stayed with her at her home in Virginia, she found in his duffle bag a compact disc of what she said appeared to be a backup of his computer's hard drive. The disc was labeled April 25, 2005, the day before her sister's death.

"It was alarming to me, because (police) said they didn't believe it was a break-in because the only things were missing was a laptop and knives," she said.

Her husband made two copies of the CD, but Flood said she waited to give them to police because she was unsure of the discovery and had mixed emotions.

She felt that Raven Abaroa might have had something to do with her sister's death. But she also felt that turning over the evidence would betray him.

"I was really mixed because Raven was someone Janet loved, and I loved Janet, and even though thinking he had committed this act, it was still hard to sort through it," Flood said.

Investigators have testified that Raven Abaroa told them that before he went to play soccer, he left a laptop in his home office – the room where Janet Abaroa's body was found.

But authorities never found the computer.

As for the knives that Flood said were never found, witnesses said Raven Abaroa, at one point, collected knives.

Bradlee said Raven Abaroa told him that he had some stored in a bin in the office. But as far as Bradlee knew, investigators seized only a set of knives from the kitchen and one from the glove compartment of the couple's Dodge Durango.