Dateline   |  April 25, 2014

Deadly Denial, part 4

Using witnesses and physical evidence, prosecutors make their case against a defendant.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> the christianson family never gave up their quest to pursue their daughter's killer. they made phone call after phone call to police in durham .

>> we just weren't sure they would ever be able to solve the case.

>> but detectives felt they already had. they shared with janet 's family the evidence of raven stealing and cheating. eventually, janet 's parents agreed that raven was responsible for killing janet .

>> i just knew in my heart that he had done it. and it was a horrible realization.

>> and in 2009 , new, more aggressive prosecutors reached the same conclusion. after taking a fresh look at the old evidence and concluding there was, after all, enough to seek an indictment. five years after janet 's killing, raven abaroa was arrested and extradited back to durham to stand trial for first degree murder.

>> when raven was finally arrested, do you think, at last, justice.

>> yes.

>> finally.

>> in april 2013 , assistant district attorney charlene franks was tapped to prosecute the case.

>> you felt in pretty good shape heading for trial.

>> yes, i did.

>> prosecutor franks first went after raven 's character by calling women from his past. she hoped the jury would start to see the defendant as an amoral, controlling man, who cared little about his marriage. charlotte rivel testified she went to the house and raven showed her a sex tape . and then janet came home.

>> he was like, we have to go hide, we need to go hide. he almost physically pushed me. he didn't hurt me or anything, but pushed me into the closet. so i just stayed until she left and then i left.

>> next to testify was raven 's co-worker, annabelle. she said raven flirted with her and they eventually had sex.

>> i did say to him, "what if your wife finds out?" and he said "she won't ever know."

>> prosecutor franks then got to the heart of the case, hoping to prove that janet was trapped in an emotionally abusive marriage.

>> talk to you about any problems she had in her marriage?

>> yes.

>> best friend, brittney, said she heard firsthand just how destructive janet 's marriage had become.

>> i overheard him talking to janet in a way that you wouldn't want your dog talked to.

>> what did he say?

>> he told her that she was good for nothing, that she couldn't do anything right.

>> brittney said raven had taken control over every aspect of janet 's life. including her phone calls .

>> when she said he doesn't like me talking to you. she said, i have to walk to the pay phone to talk to you. and i'm like -- my heart just fell. and i said how long have you been walking to a pay phone and how far away is this pay phone ? and does any of this make sense to my friend who is so smart.

>> she was almost the perfect victim of a domestic violence situation. she did exactly what she was told, when she was told.

>> you feel sorry for janet , don't you?

>> yes. i felt sorry that she didn't have an outlet to get help with.

>> if janet was the perfect victim, who was raven ?

>> he's a predator.

>> a predator who, according to charlene franks , lied repeatedly to police. for proof, she turned to janet 's contact lenses .

>> one of the biggest things were the contacts.

>> in his interview with police, raven said janet was in bed watching tv and about to go to sleep when he left her to go play soccer.

>> and all of the sisters, mom, dad, they were adamant that before going to bed, janet always took out her contact lenses .

>> so on a hunch, detectives exhumed janet 's body. and according to the prosecution, unearthed the truth when they discovered she was still wearing her contacts.

>> suggesting that she wasn't about to go to bed, as her husband had suggested.

>> correct. she was not in that bed sleeping. when he left, she was dead.

>> then prosecutor franks turned to raven 's 911 call.

>> is your wife conscience?

>> no, she's like blue!

>> she's blue?

>> her eyes are open.

>> he said she was dead. her lips were blue. and her eyes were open.

>> but mike guzman, the abaroas' church counselor, testified he told him something completely different about finding january et cetera janet .

>> i believe heed said to me she asked him why do i hurt so bad?

>> that statement he made to mike is extremely important. because that shows she was not dead at the time he originally was with her.

>> one of those is a lie.

>> exactly.

>> one item conspicuously absent from the growing pile of state's evidence was the weapon. but franks had something she felt was almost as good. the evidence that raven was a collector of knives. in an online video , raven , with janet by his side, proudly displays one of his recent acquisitions.

>> that's my new knife. got it for christmas, thank you. bought it myself.

>> raven had told detectives his collection was missing, along with his laptop. then there was the issue of motive. prosecutors don't need to prove it, but jurors have come to expect it. so charlene franks called sandy garrison, raven 's boss at the time of janet 's death. garrison told the jury raven knew he was about to lose his job.

>> he looked at me with a little smile and said, "you got my pink slip , boss?" no, we're going to wait until the end of the month for this.

>> charlene franks ' point was looming debt could have driven raven to kill. she then showed the jury janet 's life insurance policy. the payout was $500,000. the beneficiary was raven abaroa.

>> the only way he could afford to live his lifestyle was to get that insurance policy .

>> but another piece of this puzzle was about to be presented in court. and it had to do with raven 's second wife, vanessa pond. it turns out, vanessa and raven were not a match made in heaven.

>> i was way too naive. way too naive.

>> vanessa traveled from salt lake city to durham to testify. not for the defense. but for the prosecution.

>> do you solemnly swear --

>> she told the jury how the romance with raven ended almost as quickly as it began.

>> did you all argue a lot?

>> yeah.

>> at one point, vanessa said raven became physical.

>> he had me by the arms, and he threw me up against the wall. he told me how much he hated me. and how much he didn't care if i died. right after that, he calmed right down. i'm so sorry, i'm so sorry, i'm so sorry.

>> according to vanessa , raven displayed that same moody, unpredictable behavior again and again.

>> the moment he got fired up about anything, he flew off the handle with f-u, you're an f'ing whore.

>> that quick?

>> instant.

>> their marriage only lasted three months.

>> do you think you escaped something worse than just a bad three-month marriage?

>> absolutely.

>> charlene franks rested her case with confidence. even as she admitted there were some things she didn't have.

>> no murder weapon.

>> no.

>> no witnesses.

>> no.

>> no blood in his car.

>> no. his advantage was trying to say that i'm just a bad husband, i'm a criminal as far as money goes. but there's no evidence i killed my wife.

>> now it was the defense's