Notorious Durham murder of pregnant mother was focus of ABC's 20/20 two-hour special

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- One of the Triangle's most notorious murders of the past two decades is getting a fresh look from ABC's 20/20.

The murder of Janet Abaroa happened in April 2005. It was a crime that terrorized a Durham neighborhood around Ferrand Drive north of I-85.

The 25-year-old pregnant mother was found dead in a pool of blood in a second-floor bedroom. Her 6-month-old son, Kaiden, was in the next room.

Janet's husband, Raven, claimed he arrived home from playing soccer in Morrisville to find his wife dead. Raven Abaroa said Janet was the victim of a home invasion and claimed his laptop and a knife were missing.

Police found no sign of forced entry, and other valuables in plain sight were untouched, casting doubt on the home-invasion theory. An autopsy revealed Janet was stabbed to death.

Nearly five years after the murder, Abaroa was arrested. His trial ended in a hung jury and he entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors to avoid a second trial. Abaroa walked out of prison a free man after being locked up for a month just shy of eight years.

"I didn't receive a fair trial the first time," Abaroa told a Durham judge. "I don't think I'll receive a fair trial the second time. Fact is, I love my family very much I don't think it's worth risking the possibility of spending the rest of my life in prison for something I didn't do. I did not kill my wife."


Janet and Raven Abaroa fell in love at Southern Virginia University where Janet was a star soccer player.

"Raven swept her off her feet; he's very charismatic," said Erika Bakey, Janet's sister. "He was Prince Charming and she fell for him hard."

Janet was the sixth of 10 siblings in a devout Mormon family.

Her family describes her as loving and kind with a sweet spirit.

Janet and Raven married early. She was 20 and he was 19.

They seemed like the perfect happily married couple.


They moved to Durham for jobs with the sporting-goods company Eurosport in Hillsborough and things began to change.

Four months before Janet's murder, police charged Raven Abaroa with embezzling more than $9,000 from the company. He was caught stealing high-end athletic equipment from his employer and reselling it. Both Abaroas left their jobs at the company. Raven Abaroa later pleaded guilty to embezzlement.


Their marriage was showing signs of financial strain and infidelity.

Raven Abaroa admitted to Janet that he was cheating on her. He moved out of their home.

Janet soon discovered she was pregnant with their second child. Raven Abaroa decided to return to their home and agreed to work on their marriage.

A short time later, Janet was dead.

The night of the murder, police found a bloody footprint and a bloody fingerprint that could not be connected to Abaroa. Detectives wondered whether there was a stranger in the house.


Days turned into weeks and months turned into years with no arrest in the case. Janet's murder stumped Durham detectives.

In late 2009, Durham police assigned a fifth lead detective to the case. Charles Sole took a fresh look at the case from every angle.

He called Abaroa at his new home in Utah and the conversations were not adding up. Sole says Abaroa's story kept changing.

"The lights were on, the lights were off, the child was crying, child was not," said Sole about his January 2010 phone calls with Abaroa. "You don't get those things wrong if you're telling the truth."

Sole picked up another clue in Abaroa's 911 call on the night of the murder.

"The most important thing about that call is not once does Raven ever ask for help for his wife," Sole said.


The detective then looked at the crime-scene photos. It led to more questions and a hunch.

There were no signs of an intruder and no signs of a struggle, despite Abaroa's claim of a home invasion.

As the veteran detective studied the crime-scene images, he noticed Janet's contact-lens case open on the bathroom counter.

"I said to myself if she's ready to go to bed and still has her contacts in, and that's unusual," Sole said.


Sole wanted to know whether Janet died with her contact lenses in her eyes. If so, it would undermine Abaroa's theory that she was murdered after he left for his soccer game and close to her bedtime.

Sole's hunch led to the exhumation of Janet's body at a Pennsylvania cemetery.

"The exhumation was something we didn't want to have to do unless we felt like it was going to be necessary," Sole said.

Janet's family supported the decision.

"It's hard because she was being dug up," Bakey said. "She was already murdered, now she can't even rest after she's dead."

The exhumation revealed Janet died with her contact lenses in her eyes.

Four-and-a-half years after her murder, Sole had enough evidence to arrest Abaroa and charge him with murder.


Abaroa's 2013 trial lasted five weeks.

Prosecutors said Abaroa stabbed his wife before he left to play soccer, leaving his baby alone in the house with his dying wife.

Attorneys called 80 witnesses and presented 500 pieces of evidence, but there was no murder weapon, no blood in Raven's car, no witnesses to the murder. It was a case based on circumstantial evidence.


Prosecutors could not convince all 12 members of the jury. One juror voted not guilty and it led to a mistrial.

The Abaroa family said in a statement, "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."

Weeks before his second trial was scheduled to begin in 2014, Abaroa entered an Alford plea for voluntary manslaughter. Janet's family agreed with the decision that spared them the emotional stress of a second trial.

Abaroa was sentenced to a maximum of 10 years and one month in prison. He was released on Christmas Day 2017 after spending a month short of eight years in prison.

Abaroa is living in Utah where he is raising Kaiden, now a teenager.

"The Secret in Her Eyes" aired Friday night on ABC11.
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