Murder Victim to be Exhumed Five Years Later

July 14, 2010— -- In a highly unusual case, investigators are traveling to the small Pennsylvania cemetery where Janet Abaroa was buried five years ago to see if she was wearing contact lenses at the time of her murder.

The victim's former husband, Raven Abaroa, is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of his pregnant wife in North Carolina. He had fought the exhumation in court, but a Pennsylvania judge sided with the prosecution.

It's not uncommon for exhumations to be ordered to determine a cause of death, but the practice is rare in the quest for new evidence in a murder case. Abaroa's body is to be disinterred from a family plot in Franklin County, Pa., Monday, and then taken to Allentown for an autopsy. Her remains are to be reinterred within 48 hours.

"It's very stressful to think about your loved one being disinterred and reinterred, but they also understand that is a very active, ongoing investigation," Timothy Dowd, a spokesman for the victim's family, told "If this helps get justice for Janet, they certainly weren't going to stand in the way of it. But it was very difficult, especially for Janet's mother and father."

In the hours before her death on April 26, 2005, Janet Abaroa, 26, picked up her child at day care and went with her husband to drop her car off for repairs. The couple also met with a church member at their home that night before Raven Abaroa left to play in an indoor soccer game.

Raven Abaroa, 30, told police that he found his wife stabbed to death when he returned home hours later. She was pregnant with her second child at the time. He told police she was sleeping when he left home. The couple's son, who was 6 months old at the time, was found unharmed, sleeping in a room next to where his mother's body was found. Investigators want to see if Janet Abaroa was still wearing her contact lenses, which relatives said she always removed before sleeping.

Abaroa moved to Idaho and remarried after his wife's death, but investigators continued to pursue leads in the cold case. In February, he was indicted in connection with his wife's murder.

Lauren Sulcove, an assistant district attorney in Franklin County, Pa., told that investigators were also looking for four specific pieces of forensic evidence, including fingerprints, knife markings in Janet Abaroa's sternum, and to make cast impressions of her hands.

"There were a whole slew of experts consulted about all of these tests," she said. "They say that they expect, because of the high quality of the casket used in this particular case, that there's a very good likelihood that she will be in the same kind of shape that she was just a day or so after she was buried."

Sulcove said, the county coroner testified that "if the casket was left under water for the last five years, she would be in the same condition as she was when she was first buried."

Sulcove said Raven Abaroa did not initially object to the exhumation but later changed his mind. His attorney, Amos Tyndall of Chapel Hill, argued against the exhumation and the scientific methods used to collect the evidence. The judge sided with the prosecution but allowed the defense to have a crime scene expert at the cemetery. The exhumation will also be videotaped.

"This is only one piece of a very large puzzle," Sulcove said.

Tyndall could not be reached for comment.

North Carolina authorities extradited Abaroa from Idaho Feb. 26.

Raven Abaroa has always maintained he is innocent, saying he was playing soccer the night of the murder. Shortly after the crime, Abaroa moved to Utah, remarried and then moved to Idaho. His second wife eventually separated from him, claiming she believed he killed Janet.

Janet Abaroa's family may hold another service for her.

"At some appropriate time, the family may come back and have a service for her when there is no media present," Dowd said.