Mother testifies in Durham trial of daughter's accused killer

jporter@newsobserver.comApril 29, 2013 

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Murder defendant Raven Samuel Abaroa listens as defense attorney Mani Dexter, right, explains a defense motion to see letters provided to law enforcement from a witness in Abaroa's murder case before presiding Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson Monday afternoon, April 22, 2013. Jury selection begins this week in the case of Abaroa, a Durham resident charged in the killing of his wife Janet Christiansen Abaroa in 2005.

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Janet Abaroa’s mother took the witness stand Monday, the first to testify in the trial of the man accused of fatally stabbing her daughter eight years ago.

Janet Christiansen said she was close to her daughter but said when she would try to call her, Janet’s husband, Raven Abaroa, would call back.

Christiansen said her daughter had confided in her when Raven Abaroa was seeing other women, Janet Christiansen said. When she asked if Raven ever hit her; Janet Abaroa told her mother no but that he had been verbally abusive.

Jurors listened to a recording of Raven Abaroa’s 911 call on the night of Janet Abaroa’s death. Barbara Parsons, the dispatcher who spoke to Abaroa, said his responses to her instructions were “different” from other cases.

“Normally [a caller] wants someone to help them,” Parsons said. “He didn’t want to do CPR. He said she was not with him. He was calm, which was unusual, and then hysterical. He seemed more interested in getting his bishop than in doing something to help his wife.”

When questioned by the defense, Parsons, who was a 911 operator for 22 years and is now retired, said people do respond to emergencies in different ways.

Raven Abaroa, 33, is charged with first-degree murder in his wife’s death in the couple’s home on Ferrand Drive in April 2005. He says he is innocent and that he found his wife’s body after he returned home from a soccer game in Morrisville.

Visibly upset

Police at the crime scene and a paramedic also testified Monday.

Several responding officers described Raven Abaroa as composed but visibly upset when they arrived, as though he had been crying.

Officers Jason Williams and William Benhart did the first sweep of the house and testified that Janet Abaroa was already dead when they came on the scene. they and other officers noted a bloody handprint on Janet Abaroa’s chest and pools of blood around the body. Williams noted a blood spatter on the south door leading to the driveway but stayed away from the door to protect the scene.

The Abaroas’ neighbor, Lisa Sealy, testified that her car had been broken into close to the time of Janet Abaroa’s death and that around $2 in change had been taken from it. Sealy said she didn’t know the Abaroas but had heard them arguing from outside of her house at least three times.

“It was very heated, very heated, very intense and there was a lot of cursing,” Sealy said.

Sealy described an incident when she was driving around the corner of her street back to her house. She said she saw Janet Abaroa clinging to the hood of the couple’s Dodge Durango as Raven drove it in the opposite direction. Sealy said she stopped to ask the couple if everything was all right.

Raven “said they were just playing around,” she testified. “Janet Abaroa agreed. She appeared like everything was fine, don’t worry about anything. Like two kids getting caught. Like a fun trip around the block.”

No eyewitness testimony

In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Luke Bumm told the jury that its role in assessing the facts is crucial, since there is no eyewitness testimony.

“I’m confident the state will be able to give you evidence sufficient to find the defendant guilty of first-degree murder,” Bumm said.

Defense attorney Amos Tyndall urged jurors to heed evidence that he says investigators overlooked at the crime scene: a bloody footprint found next to Janet Abaroa’s body, a blood stain on a door that DNA analysis found didn’t match Raven Abaroa, and a coin found near a creek on the property by police dogs.

Tyndall said that in the month that Janet Abaroa was fatally stabbed, 14 break-ins had been reported in the Abaroas’ neighborhood, and that of five detectives who investigated the case over eight years, some didn’t know that the blood on the door excluded Raven Abaroa’s DNA. He said that, in the same time period, witnesses who will be testifying have changed their stories significantly.

“Raven Abaroa was always treated like a suspect,” Tyndall said. “There’s been a total focus on Raven Abaroa’s past and future sins, and not on the crime scene.”

The defense asked jurors to carefully consider documents such as emails, phone records, medical records, scientific evidence and “the motives of people involved.”

“The further away you get from that trail of evidence, the closer an innocent man is to being convicted of murder,” Tyndall said.

About 20 of Janet Abaroa’s family members and friends were in the courtroom Monday, wearing purple ribbons in her memory.

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