Deadlocked Abaroa jurors favored guilty verdict 11-1 in Durham murder case

jporter@newsobserver.comMay 31, 2013 

— Family members of Janet Abaroa, the Durham woman who was stabbed to death in her home in 2005, wept openly in court Friday after a judge ruled a mistrial in the case against her husband, Raven Abaroa.

Jurors favored a guilty verdict by 11 to 1, according to Assistant District Attorney Charlene Coggins-Franks.

The state will push for a retrial, which could be scheduled at a hearing Thursday.

Abaroa, 33, faced life in prison if he was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his pregnant wife. He maintains his innocence and says he found her body in an upstairs room of their home on Ferrand Drive upon returning from a soccer game in Orange County.

Jurors deliberated for more than 10 hours after closing arguments Wednesday, after a five-week trial during which they heard from more than 80 witnesses and saw more than 500 pieces of evidence.

But the seven-man, five-woman panel remained deadlocked Friday after Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson twice delivered an Allen charge, a strongly worded instruction to continue deliberating until reaching a verdict.

“We have discussed the evidence soberly and from all points of view,” jurors wrote in a note to the judge after a lunch break. “No amount of arbitration will alter our decision or lead us to a unanimous decision of guilty or not guilty. … We are a hung jury.”

Abaroa appeared tense in court and wiped at tears when the judge announced the mistrial.

His mother and stepfather quickly left the courtroom. Abaroa’s attorneys, Amos Tyndall and Mani Dexter, also left immediately after the ruling.

Janet Abaroa’s hard drive

At the heart of defense attorneys’ argument was a hard drive seized from Janet Abaroa’s work computer that was discovered two weeks ago in a locked file cabinet at the Durham Police Department, before it was handed over to the defense for examination. A computer analyst found fragments of flirtatious emails exchanged between Janet Abaroa and a former boyfriend, written just weeks before her death.

The defense said this evidence shows who Janet Abaroa really was – a strong-willed and independent woman rather than the “scared little church mouse” it said witnesses for the prosecution would have the jury believe.

“None of us would have guessed about the power of unknown information,” Tyndall said at trial. “That’s what that hard drive symbolizes. The next thing it symbolizes is the state’s willingness to capitalize on information we don’t have.”

Jurors reviewed evidence

The jury asked to see several pieces of evidence Thursday, including photographs of the crime scene and of Abaroa at the police station, Abaroa’s clothing, video and transcripts of police interviews with Abaroa, audio of the 911 call, a layout of the home, the couple’s bank and phone records, and a day planner belonging to Janet Abaroa that was found in the kitchen.

Jurors also re-watched a video of Raven Abaroa talking to a camera after a phone call with investigator Charles Sole.

“I’ve got my work cut out for me,” Abaroa says in the video. “I need to win the lottery. This fight, you need money, and you need power.”

Prosecutors told jurors Wednesday that the video, which was entered into evidence May 14 and showed again during closing arguments, “might be the best, most honest look at (Abaroa) you’ve gotten during the whole trial.”

“He talks about a fight, what he’s fighting against,” Assistant District Attorney Luke Bumm continued. “He’s not fighting to find the killer of his wife who might still be out there. How does he treat Janet? She’s an afterthought.”

The jury saw the video three times.

Porter: 919-593-7884

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service