DURHAM — Jury selection in the trial of a Durham man accused of killing his pregnant wife in 2005 began Tuesday, after a judge denied a motion to dismiss the case.
Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said defense attorneys for Raven Abaroa, 33, failed to prove the state had allowed evidence that might have cleared their client to deteriorate or be destroyed.
Possible DNA evidence could have pointed to a third person at the scene on the day Janet Abaroa, 25, was killed, the attorneys argued. Raven Abaroa has said he was at a soccer game and called 911 when he returned home and found his wife’s body.
The motion said officer Jason Williams of the Durham Police Department saw bloodstains on an interior doorframe that led to the driveway of the couple’s home. Investigators took swabs of the blood which were submitted for testing.
An analysis found that a combination of blood from different people. One matched the DNA profile of Janet Abaroa; another did not match the DNA profile taken from Raven Abaroa’s blood.
The blood samples were returned to police in December 2005. According to the motion, the analyst who evaluated the blood samples did not analyze the unmatched sample further after she found that it did not belong to Abaroa.
The motion further said that in 2009, Investigator Gerald Thomas of the State Bureau of Investigation, reported that a sweatshirt Abaroa was wearing when police arrived on the scene had a handprint on it that “could have only been created by pressure from a living person.”
Thomas and his mentor, Duane Deaver, formerly the foremost expert in bloodstain pattern analysis in the state, were discredited in 2011 for fabricating, ignoring and withholding evidence in several other criminal trials, according to the motion.
The SBI fired Deaver in 2011.
After Deaver and Thomas were discredited, the state sent Abaroa’s sweatshirt to a different blood spatter expert, Herb MacDonell, who concluded he could not find any pattern on the sweatshirt that was consistent with a human handprint.
Defense attorneys said that evidence left at the crime scene was destroyed after a church group cleaned the Abaroas’ house several days after Janet Abaroa’s death. They also said that authorities failed to collect computer storage devices from Abaroa’s home and car.
“I recognize that this is an unusual motion, but this is an unusual case, an unusual investigation,” defense attorney Amos Tyndall said. “In eight years, critical evidence to Mr. Abaroa’s defense was intentionally destroyed or intentionally ignored.”
Assistant District Attorney Charlene Coggins-Franks said the probability of this evidence clearing Abaroa wasn’t high enough to dismiss the case.
Hudson agreed, saying the defense would have to prove first that the destruction of evidence was intentional and then that the destroyed evidence would have exonerated Abaroa.
“It’s a hard thing to prove,” he said.