DURHAM — A Durham man accused of fatally stabbing his wife in 2005 pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter but maintained his innocence Wednesday in Durham County Superior Court.
Raven Abaroa, 34, accepted a plea agreement that called for him to spend between seven years, 11 months and 10 years, one month in prison. He was given credit for 1,500 days he has already spent in custody and could be released in as few as four years.
Abaroa took an Alford plea, meaning that he did not admit guilt but was pleading guilty to the lesser charge because he believed it was in his best interest.
Family and friends of Janet Marie Christianson Abaroa gasped when Abaroa said he was not guilty.
“I didn’t receive a fair trial the first time,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll receive a fair trial a second time.”
He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter because he didn’t think it was worth the risk of spending his life in prison away from his family if found guilty of the original charge of first-degree murder during a second trial, he said.
A jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of guilt during a trial last year, and the judge declared a mistrial. A second trial was scheduled to begin next week.
“I did not kill my wife,” Abaroa said.
He apparently didn’t convince Janet’s family and friends, who crowded into the left side of the courtroom behind the prosecutor and the police officers who investigated the case.
Her father, two sisters and a family friend spoke, asking why Abaroa didn’t just divorce his wife instead of killing her.
“Janet loved Raven,” said LaVerte Dowd, a close family friend of the young couple when they were newlyweds. “She loved Raven. She was willing to overlook his infidelities. She was willing to overlook his embezzlement, his controlling nature. She wanted their marriage to work because she loved him.”
“He threw that away as though it was garbage,” Dowd said.
Abaroa claimed he left his pregnant wife and his baby at home in northwest Durham on the evening of Feb. 26, 2005, while he went to play soccer. He said when he returned home, he found his wife covered in blood on the floor of an upstairs office.
Assistant District Attorney Charlene Coggins-Franks told Superior Court Judge Howard Manning that Abaroa stabbed his wife before he left to go play soccer, leaving his baby alone in the house with his dying wife.
A videotape at a convenience store showed that Raven Abaroa was not wearing the same sweatshirt that he claimed he was wearing when he left the soccer game. She also said Abaroa’s story that he hugged his wife when he found her dead on the floor did not match the evidence because he had very little blood on his shirt.
He claimed someone had taken his laptop computer when his wife was killed, but his sister-in-law later found discs in his belongings that contained the contents of his computer.
Abaroa had taken out a $500,000 life insurance policy on his wife and a $1 million policy on himself, and despite having financial problems, he always paid the premiums on time, Coggins-Franks said.
The $500,000 will go to Janet Abaroa’s mother, she said.
Initial trial ‘brutal’
After the hearing, Janet’s father, Val Christianson, said his family wasn’t satisfied with the short sentence Abaroa will serve, but they decided they couldn’t go through another trial and risk the chance that Abaroa might be found not guilty.
“That initial trial was extremely hard on the family and all those that loved Janet,” he said in a statement. “To say it was brutal is an understatement.
“In that trial we saw the dark side of the defendant. He was exposed for what he really is: an embezzler, a convicted felon, a sexual predator, and a narcissitic, self-absorbed individual.”
The family decided to accept the decision by the district attorney’s office to offer Abaroa the plea deal to make sure he spent some time in prison.
“We would have preferred he be put away for life in a place where he would not be able to hurt anyone ever again,” Christianson said.