Abaroa sentenced in stabbing death of pregnant wife

Mar. 12, 2014 @ 05:23 PM

Raven Abaroa pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter Wednesday in the 2005 stabbing death of his pregnant wife, Janet Marie Christiansen Abaroa, and was sentenced to at least seven years and 11 months in prison.

Family members and friends of the victim wept and held their heads as Durham County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning imposed the sentence as part of a plea deal approved by the District Attorney’s Office.

Abaroa entered a so-called Alford plea, which let him plead without admitting guilt.

“I did not kill my wife,” Abaroa said during a brief statement before being led away by sheriff’s deputies.

That denial brought more muffled cries from courtroom spectators.

Abaroa said he entered the plea because he felt he couldn’t get a fair trial. He said his first trial on the murder charge, which ended last year with a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction, also was unfair.

But family members were allowed to make brief statements at the hearing, and said Abaroa had taken away a beloved daughter and sister who was beautiful inside and out.

Janet’s father, Val Christiansen, fought back tears as he said his daughter will never get to see her young son grow up, go the college and marry. He said she also missed out on seeing her unborn child.

“We’re heartbroken,” he said. “Janet will always be missed and loved.”

Erica Bakey said her older sister was a kind and loving person whose death hurt everyone who knew her.

“One of the questions I ask myself over and over is: ‘Why kill her?’ she said. “Why not just get a divorce? Why not just leave her? Why not just leave her to us? She had so much to live for, and you cut that short. When you took Janet’s life, you took part of me, my family and all who loved her.”

Abaroa’s attorney, Amos Tyndall, said many facts presented by the state were true but others were “highly contested.”  He said some were false.

“Mr. Abaroa shares a lot of what Mr. Christiansen said,” Tyndall told the judge. “He’s always stated that to us – how much he misses Janet and how much he loved her, and he has always maintained his innocence.”

Assistant District Attorney Charlene Coggins-Franks said the couple had been having financial problems, and that Abaroa already faced embezzlement charges from stealing from his job.

Abaroa was accused of first-degree murder in the April 26, 2005 stabbing death of 25-year-old Janet Abaroa at their home on Ferrand Drive in Durham.

Soon after the mistrial, the state offered Abaroa 19 to 24 years in prison if he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, but he rejected that.

Abaroa, 34, told investigators that he left his home for a soccer match the night of her death and returned a few hours later to find Janet on the floor in an upstairs office.

An autopsy found she was stabbed three times - in her chest, neck and left hand.

Durham police arrested Abaroa in February 2010 in Idaho, where he’d been living with the couple’s son. The boy was 6 months old when his mother was killed.

Wednesday’s sentence provides for maximum prison time of 10 years and three months. With credit for time already served, Abaroa could be released in 2018.