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Judge: Reasonable cause for remains to be exhumed

Investigators hope tests will strengthen case against man charged with wife's murder

July 09, 2010|By DANA BROWN

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Franklin County Judge Douglas Herman ruled Friday there is reasonable cause for investigators to exhume for forensic testing the remains of a slain North Carolina woman who was buried five years ago in Brown's Mill Cemetery.

Investigators are hoping the tests will strengthen their case against Raven Abaroa, who is charged with murder in the death of his wife, Janet Christiansen Abaroa.

The young mother's lifeless body was found in her Durham, N.C., home on April 26, 2005, by her husband. She apparently died from two stab wounds to her torso, according to the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

At the time, no one was charged in her death and the case went cold for nearly four years.

Detective Charles Sole, an investigator with the City of Durham Police Department's homicide unit, was assigned to the case a little more than a year ago. His investigation eventually led to Raven Abaroa, who was charged with his wife's murder earlier this year. Abaroa was indicted by a grand jury and in February was arrested. He was being held without bail in the Durham County Detention Facility.

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Lauren Sulcove, assistant district attorney in Franklin County, petitioned on behalf of the Durham police for the court to approve disinterrment of Janet Abaroa's remains for further analysis that will include examining her skeleton for knife markings, lifting her fingerprints for comparison, making biofoam casts of her hands and checking her eyes for contact lenses.

Sole hopes the tests will determine whether the knife used to kill Janet Abaroa is like the set of knives belonging to Raven Abaroa, whether fingerprints found at the scene and the bloody hand imprint on Raven Abaroa's sweatshirt belonged to Janet Abaroa, and whether she was wearing contacts at the time she was killed.

Sole told the court he made every effort to ensure his request to have Janet Abaroa's remains exhumed was "a reasonable request."

"To do such an overt act, we didn't want to be on a fishing expedition," he said.

Val Christiansen, Janet Abaroa's father, told the court the family supports the investigator's request.

"We are all in agreement with that," he said.

Raven Abaroa was the only family member opposed to the exhumation.

Herman determined the "commonwealth's interest outweighed" Raven Abaroa's objection.

Herman said he will sign the order for exhumation but will allow for the defense, at the request of defense attorney Amos Tyndall, to have a representative present for the exhumation and testing.

Janet Abaroa's body will be exhumed July 19 for no more than 48 hours. Her body will be reinterred at Brown's Mill Cemetery in Antrim Township, where several of her family members are buried.

Tyndall said he was satisfied with the judge's ruling.

"We're not surprised," Tyndall said. "We're certainly happy he will allow us to participate."

Tim Dowd, speaking for the family of Janet Abaroa, said "the judge ruled correctly."

Dowd said the family had "a great deal of discussion" before coming to agreement that the exhumation is "something that is necessary."

"This is tough," he said. "It's not something you want to do. We just want to get this part of it behind us and move forward."

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