Abaroa murder trial gets underway
The trial of Raven Abaroa, charged with stabbing his wife, Janet, to death in 2005, got underway Monday with opening statements and testimony from several witnesses.
Abaroa, 33, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Janet Marie Christiansen Abaroa, 25, at their home on Ferrand Drive on April 26, 2005.
Abaroa was arrested in Feb. 26, 2010, for the murder and brought back to Durham for the trial from Idaho, where he was living at the time of his arrest.
After a very brief opening statement by the assistant district attorney, defense attorney Amos Tyndall gave the jurors a summary of what Raven Abaroa claims occurred that night.
Tyndall explained the layout of the house and the room where Raven Abaroa found his wife that night when he came home from playing soccer in Orange County.
Janet was near the door of the office, down on her knees and was hunched over forward, he said. When Raven came home and found her on the floor and saw the blood, he rolled her over and saw what he thought was a gunshot wound in her abdomen, Tyndall said.
Her mouth and eyes were open, and she appeared to be dead, Tyndall said.
A bloody footprint was on the floor near her body, but police didn't find any blood on Abaroa's shoes, Tyndall said.
A blood stain was on the frame of the side door to the house, but the DNA from that blood stain contained a combination of Janet's DNA and DNA from someone other than Raven Abaroa, Tyndall said.
When police brought a K-9 to search the area, the dog followed a trail from the house to the front of the property and located a coin in the creek area, he said. A neighbor had reported that someone had entered her car and stolen coins from inside, Tyndall said.
Tyndall also told the jurors that when officers arrived at the scene after Abaroa called 911, they entered the house with their guns drawn to make sure it was safe, saw Janet Abaroa upstairs and immediately knew she was dead.
One of the first witnesses to take the stand was the 911 operator who took the call that night from Abaroa. Prosecutors played the eight-minute long tape recording, which began with Abaroa screaming, "My wife is dead. My wife is dead!"
In the recording, which was difficult to understand because Abaroa was gasping for breath and at times sounded hysterical, told the operator that his wife had been shot.
Throughout the call, the operator repeatedly told Abaroa to calm down and try to take deep breaths.
The dispatcher asked him if he could do anything to help his wife, and Abaroa told her, "She's not with me."
Abaroa told the dispatcher he wanted to talk to his home teacher, Mike, a member of his church who had been at their home earlier that evening.
Still the operator kept trying to calm Abaroa down, giving him instructions on how to breathe. She told him that someone from his church was on the way.
After the recording finished, Assistant District Attorney Charlene Coggins-Franks asked the operator if there was anything unusual about the call, and she said Raven Abaroa "was very calm."
He also seemed more interested in getting the church's bishop to come to his house than doing something to help his wife, she said.
Other witnesses who took the stand included a number of law enforcement officers, who spoke to Raven Abaroa and some who saw Janet. A couple officers testified that as soon as they saw Janet Abaroa, they knew was dead.
When they saw Janet Abaroa, her shirt was pulled up around her neck, and there was a stab wound in the center of her abdomen, they said. There was a bloody palm print in the middle of her chest, they said.
Amanda Lang Craig, who was a patrol officer for the Durham Police Department at the time, saw Raven Abaroa sitting out front of the house holding a baby. She began talking to him, and asked him about what happened.
Raven Abaroa gave a timeline about going to work that day, coming home and meeting with the church's home teacher. They cleaned up the dishes and Raven Abaroa got ready to go play soccer, leaving his wife home with the baby, Craig said.
As he was getting ready to leave, "They embraced. She began to cry," Craig said.
Craig asked Abaroa why she was crying, and he said, she said, "I can't do this again."
When Craig asked him what he meant, he didn't answer at first but later said, she said she couldn't put the baby down again.
Abaroa also told her that when he first saw his wife hunched over on the floor in the dark office, he thought she might be having cramps because that's what she did when she had menstrual cramps.
When she didn't answer, he turned on the light and saw the blood.
Raven Abaroa said that just that morning they had been joking because Janet Abaroa's period was a week late, Craig said. He was laughing to himself and smiling when he said that, Craig said.
Lisa Sealy, a neighbor who lived across the street, said she heard three loud arguments coming from the Abaroa home prior to April 26, 2005. She couldn't tell what they were about because she didn't try to listen to them, she said.
Sealy also testified that once as she was driving into the neighborhood, she saw Raven Abaroa driving out and Janet was on the hood of his vehicle.
Sealy stopped and asked if everything was all right, and they both said, yes, that they were just joking around, but Sealy said she thought they were acting like a couple of kids who had just been caught getting into trouble.
Under questioning by Tyndall, Sealy said she had reported to police that someone had entered her unlocked car and stolen $2 in change, but said she couldn’t remember when she made the report.
The trial, which is expected to last two or three weeks, is scheduled to continue this morning.