Convicted Durham killer Raven Abaroa, 38, was released from prison on Christmas Day.
Abaroa was arrested February 1, 2010 and charged with first-degree murder in the April 26, 2005 death of his pregnant wife, 25-year-old Janet Marie Christiansen Abaroa.
On March 12, 2014, Raven Abaroa entered an Alford plea for voluntary manslaughter in Durham County Superior Court. In an Alford plea, a defendant maintains his innocence but admits that the state has sufficient evidence to convict him and agrees to be treated as if he were guilty.
The plea reduced the amount of time Abaroa would spend in prison.
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He was sentenced to between seven years, 11 months and 10 years imprisonment, but he was granted credit for 1,500 days he’d spent behind bars before and during his trial, which was applied as time-served.
Durham police said they drove down the gravel drive leading to the Abaroas’ secluded home at 2606 Ferrand Drive around 11 p.m. on April 26, 2005. Officers found Janet Abaroa’s body in a kneeling position in her bedroom. She had suffered multiple stab wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene.
An autopsy later showed she had been slashed on the right finger and stabbed in the chest, and revealed that a stab wound at the base of her neck had cut down through an artery and into a lung.
The Abaroas had been together for 7 years and been married for nearly four and a half years. Their then six-month-old son, Kaiden, was found in a room adjacent to his mother’s bedroom.
When she died, Janet Abaroa had been pregnant with a second child, the autopsy showed.
The Abaroas had met while both attended Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista, Virginia. Janet had starred as a midfielder on the NCAA Division III school’s first women’s soccer team, said her former coach, Joe Bouchelle.
In the hours before her death, Janet Abaroa had picked Kaiden up from daycare. A little later she and her husband met with a fellow Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints member and Raven Abaroa had left around 8:30 p.m. in a gray 1998 Dodge Durango to play an indoor soccer match in Morrisville.
Abaroa told authorities he found his slain wife’s body when he got home and then called the police.
Four months prior to Janet’s killing, both she and her husband had left their jobs at the area sporting goods company Eurosport after Hillsborough police had charged Raven Abaroa with embezzling more than $9,000 from the company. Both later found new employment.
The Abaroas’ landlord, Peter Greijn, offered the couple two months free rent due to their financial issues arising from the loss of their jobs.
A week before her death, Janet Abaroa told Greijn she still loved the neighborhood and had found a great babysitter close by for Kaiden, the landlord said.
Raven Abaroa pleaded guilty to five counts of embezzlement Aug. 23, 2005 in Orange County Criminal Superior Court and was placed on supervised probation for two years. After his wife’s murder, he and Kaiden moved to Utah, where he married again, this time to Vanessa Pond.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Wade Barber agreed to transfer his probation to out of state supervision.
Pond and Abaroa later separated, Pond remaining in Utah, Abaroa moving across the Utah border to Montpelier, Idaho..
Five years later
Abaroa was arrested on Feb. 2, 2010 while living in Montpelier and extradited to North Carolina to face trial for Janet’s murder.
The Durham Police Department had assigned the fifth of five lead detectives, Charles Sole, to the case and he began compiling more evidence against Abaroa.
According to Sole, Abaroa initially claimed his laptop and knives were missing from his Durham home the night of the murder. But later, Abaroa would claim he found a knife packed away in his belongings after he moved. In a phone call to police, he accused them of overlooking it.
“He actually said he thought it was a joke. He said ‘I can’t believe you’re investigating my wife’s murder and you guys leave a knife at the crime scene,’” testified Sole at Abaroa’s trial.
Sole said investigators did not overlook the knife and it was not packed up in belongings that were later returned to Abaroa. He said the incident made him suspicious.
He also said Abaroa made inconsistent statements in TV interviews that he found troubling.
“Raven never kept the lies straight,” Sole told ABC’s “20/20” television show. “His statements to law enforcement, initially, they were contradictory.”
Durham 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 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.
Abaroa also 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, Coggins-Franks told the court.
Former Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said after Abaroa’s arrest: “This arrest is the result of hard and tenacious work by our investigators and a strong partnership with the FBI and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation. Investigators continued to follow leads and never gave up.”
After his father’s arrest Kaiden entered the care of his paternal grandparents, ✔Jim and ✔Karyn Bolton.
“And while we wholly agree and feel that the arrest of Raven brings that comment full circle, it also causes us great sorrow,” Janet Abaroa’s family wrote in a Feb. 2, 2010 statement on the memorial website they set up for Janet Abaroa, tearsforjanet.com. “Our primary concern is for the welfare of our grandson – Kaiden Abaroa. While the past four plus years have been tough on all of those who loved Janet it has been especially hard on Kaiden.”
Abaroa’s trial in 2013 lasted five weeks, during which time jurors heard from more than 80 witnesses and were presented more than 500 pieces of evidence.
The jury learned that prior to Janet’s death, Raven Abaroa had taken out a $500,000 life insurance policy on her and a $1 million policy on himself, and despite lapses in the Abaroas’ rent payments, the life insurance premiums were always paid on time.
The $500,000 eventually went to Janet Abaroa’s mother, Coggins-Franks later said.
The prosecution argued at trial that Abaroa had stabbed his wife, and then gone to play soccer without giving a thought to her or his baby boy’s safety, pointing out that the boy was left alone in the room next to that of his slain mother.
The jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of a guilty verdict and Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson declared a mistrial.
Janet Abaroa’s family wrote in a statement, refering to the mistrial, “In that trial we all saw the dark side of the defendant – he was exposed for what he really is – an embezzler - convicted felon, sexual predator, and a narcissistic, self-absorbed individual.”
A second trial was scheduled to begin the following year.
During a court hearing a week before his retrial was to begin, Abaroa entered his Alford plea agreement for voluntary manslaughter.
“With this plea agreement today, Raven has finally admitted, after almost nine years, that he did in fact kill our beloved Janet. Not only did he kill Janet but he knowingly killed his unborn child. No amount of jail time will ever provide justice for Janet or her unborn child,” Janet’s family wrote in a statement.
Durham’s current District Attorney Roger Echols was neither the acting DA at the time of the Abaroa trial nor was he specifically assigned to prosecute the case, he said, although he was in the Office and does remember the case and plea.
Abaroa served 7 years, 10 months and slightly over 3 weeks in prison – a span of time closer to his minimum, rather than his possible maximum, given prison sentence.
“As you may know, the parties came to a plea resolution a few months after the case was tried to a hung jury,” Echols said. “That plea, like all pleas, was a compromise. The plea was not agreed to before consultation with Janet’s family, and it was also agreed to with the family’s agreement.”
Janet’s family wrote in a March 12, 2014 statement that the Durham DA’s Office did consult with the family, and based on those discussions, they felt it best to “move ahead” with the plea agreement.
“That initial trial was extremely hard on the family and all those that loved Janet – to say it was brutal is an understatement,” the family wrote.