Prosecutors in murder case seek exhumation of body

Remains of Janet Christiansen Abaroa requested for tests

July 08, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Prosecutors in a North Carolina murder case are asking Franklin County (Pa.) Judge Douglas Herman to sign an order to exhume the remains of a woman buried in Brown's Mill Cemetery.

Court documents state the Durham County (N.C.) District Attorney's Office is requesting the remains of Janet Christiansen Abaroa for four tests. It wants fingerprints, casts of her hands and marks made on her skeleton by the weapon, as well as an answer to whether there are contact lenses in her eyes.

Abaroa's lifeless body was found in her Durham home on April 26, 2005, court documents state.

Police obtained an arrest warrant for her husband, Raven Abaroa, and charged him with murder earlier this year. After having previously been indicted by a grand jury, Raven Abaroa was arrested Feb. 1 on the warrant, according to court documents and published reports.

Janet Christiansen Abaroa's family is expected to attend a hearing before Herman at 1:30 p.m. today. A family spokesman said the woman's father was subpoenaed, and others want to attend in a show of support for further testing and prosecution of the person charged in her death.


It was "extremely distressing" for the next-of-kin to decide to proceed with exhumation, family spokesman Tim Dowd said.

"The family recognizes this is an ongoing investigation, and the family wants to see justice," he said.

Court documents state that, through his attorney, Raven Abaroa initially consented to the exhumation and later disagreed with it. They also state the victim's 5-year-old son is too young to be asked for his consent as next-of-kin, but her parents and siblings all signed forms.

"Mr. Abaroa objects to the commonwealth's petition to exhume Mrs. Abaroa's body ... to conduct experiments that have no scientific validity, will be performed without a specific or established protocol, and are designed to support conclusions the analysts have already reached about the case," defense attorney Amos Tyndall wrote in a statement obtained by The Herald-Mail.

Dowd said the victim's parents and other family members chose to bury her on their family plot at Brown's Mill Cemetery in Antrim Township, Pa.

According to court documents, the Durham County 911 Center received a call at 10:58 p.m. on the night Abaroa's body was discovered. The caller, Raven Abaroa, said he returned home and found his wife dead from what he described as a gunshot wound.

The North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner concluded the cause of death was two stab wounds to the front torso, court documents state.

"At the time of Janet Christiansen Abaroa's autopsy, no prints were taken from her fingers; therefore, her prints cannot currently be compared to the prints found at the scene of the crime," court documents state. "Additionally, an apparent bloody impression of a human hand was found on the clothing that Raven Abaroa allegedly wore during the incident."

Tyndall said Raven Abaroa performed CPR on his wife as instructed by a 911 operator. He said investigating officers did not initially request fingerprints or measurements of Janet Christiansen Abaroa's hands, or a cast for tool mark comparison.

Tyndall also claimed latent fingerprint examiners excluded the Abaroas as the sources of some of the prints.

Raven Abaroa, who is being held in the Durham County Detention Facility without bail, told police his wife had gone to sleep as he left the home for a soccer match. Court documents state family members told police that the victim always removed her contact lenses before going to sleep.

In another interview, Raven Abaroa allegedly told police several items were missing from the home, including a collection of throwing knives, court documents state. He later told investigators he found one of those knives after packing his things and moving to Utah.

His attorney shipped the knife to the Durham Police Department in May 2007, court documents state.

Included for Herman's review is a drafted court order asking for exhumation to occur over a 48-hour period potentially starting July 19. Franklin County Coroner Jeffrey R. Conner would have custody of the remains, which would be taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa., for tests.

Following completion of tests, the woman's remains would be reinterred in Brown's Mill Cemetery unless the Durham Police Department wants to retain some for analysis.

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