GAINESVILLE (CBSMiami) – The jury found Pedro Bravo guilty of murdering former classmate and friend Christian Aguilar.
Bravo was found guilty of first-degree murder, false imprisonment, poisoning, tampering with physical evidence, giving false information on committing of felony, giving false information concerning a missing person case and unlawful transportation of human remains.
Aguilar’s parents and family were silent as the verdicts were read. They left the courtroom hugging and began crying outside. Bravo watched the clerk read the verdict with no reaction. He appeared calm.
Minutes later he addressed the judge who was about to sentence him.
“There’s no depth of words to the heartache that his family, my family and anyone involved in this has gone through,” Bravo said.
He sounded conciliatory at first, but quickly, the tone changed.
“I know in my heart and I know in my actions that day and I know God as well knows that I did not kill Christian Aguilar,” said Bravo.
Aguilar’s father pleaded with the the judge to impose the maximum sentence, not able to describe the pain of losing Christian.
“Today in my heart, thanks to God, there is no room in my heart for hate and revenge,” said Claudia Aguilar, Christian’s mother.
The judge sentenced Bravo to life in prison with no possibility of parole for the murder.
“You took his past, everything he had been, you took his present, everything he was and you took his future, everything he would have been,” said Judge James Colaw.
The Gainesville Police Department released a statement Friday night: The men and women of the Gainesville Police Department stand relieved with the family of Christian Aguilar as a jury found Pedro Bravo guilty of 1st Degree Murder. For weeks, members of the Gainesville Police investigated the disappearance of Christian Aguilar and searched tirelessly for him. It quickly became clear that a missing persons case had turned into a Murder case. A very detailed investigation was completed that revealed Pedro Bravo was undoubtedly responsible for the murder of Christian Aguilar. “Our officers worked non-stop to provide the best possible case to the State Attorney” said Tony Jones, Chief of the Gainesville Police Department. “I am extremely proud of the thorough investigation completed by GPD.” GPD Spokesperson, Officer Ben Tobias praised the professionalism of the GPD officers and staff that testified in the case. “I trust that the expert testimony of our department members played a large role in the success of the case” said Tobias. “I hope that the family of Christian Aguilar now has some sense of closure.”
The judge began giving the jury instructions around 4 p.m. and the jurors began deliberating at 4:35 p.m. and a verdict was read just after 8 p.m.
The jurors had access to all evidence except the duct tape, due to odor. The alternate jurors were dismissed.
Earlier in the day, both sides gave their closing arguments.
Prosecutor Bill Ezzell began his presentation around 8:30 a.m.
Bravo was accused of strangling Aguilar, 18, on September 20th, 2012 because of his obsession with his former girlfriend Erika Friman, who Aguilar was dating. Bravo, Aguilar and Friman. All attended the Doral Academy.
Ezzel began by talking about the items Bravo bought before the murder. Store video and receipts showed Bravo bought a shovel, two different types of sleeping pills, a roll of duct tape and a knife before Aguilar’s disappearance.
“He literally bought the murderers starter pack,” said Ezzell. “By 6:49 pm on September 20th in that parking lot at that location, Pedro Bravo had strangled and killed Christian Aguilar.
Ezzell talked about how after killing Aguilar, Bravo used cell phone apps like flash light and maps to bury the body in a remote location. He then presented a sliding timeline on how Bravo’s story changed after Aguilar’s disappearance until his body was found in October.
Ezzell also suggested that the last text Aguilar sent to his mother about a flu shot was sent, in reality, by Bravo.
“That text, unquestionably, bought Bravo 16 hours of time,” said Ezel who added that without it, the manhunt would have begun at midnight.
About an hour and half into Ezzell’s closing argument, Bravo’s defense attorney Michael Ruppert called for a mistrial because Ezzell mentioned a comment made by a fellow prosecutor on Twitter. They argued that because of the tweet it implied that the community was behind the state.
The judge denied the motion for mistrial and informed the jury any mention of Twitter in Ezzell’s closing was not to be construed as evidence presented in the case.
The state then went on to discuss the seven charges against Bravo and what they mean.
First up: first degree murder. Ezel said the state only has to prove the death was caused by a criminal act of the defendant, not the method. Also there is no set time to consider a murder premeditated, only that there was time for reflection.
The other first degree murder charge is a felony murder, which means a death occurs during another crime – like poisoning or kidnapping. For felony murder, premeditation doesn’t have to be proven.
Ezzell said the defense may try to prove “heat of the moment,” but jury shouldn’t believe it because Bravo threw the first punch. He added that Bravo conceded second degree murder on the stand. “He conceded that act – beating him in a parking lot.” Under second degree murder, only intent to commit criminal acts must be proved, not intent to kill.
Ezzell then went on to talking about the kidnapping, poisoning, tampering with evidence charges, lying to police and transporting human remains.
Ezzell then talked about Bravo’s behavior during Aguilar’s disappearance and after his body was found. He pointed out that Bravo spoke about Aguilar in the past tense in his police interviews, but the present tense during his testimony on Thursday.
Ezzell then compared inconsistencies in Bravo’s interview with officers to his testimony yesterday. The prosecutor said Bravo’s initial time line was “wholly unbelievable” that he finally told police that he had harmed Aguilar but left out the hiding of the body.
Ezzell said no prints were found and insinuates Bravo used medical gloves, like those found in his room. He then pointed out forensic evidence which linked dirt from the apartment building where Bravo lived, a shovel found on the property, Bravo’s car and the grave site where Aguilar’s body was found. The alleged murder weapon, a moving strap, and Bravo’s cell phone have never been recovered. He also showed the jury forensic evidence pertaining to duct tape found on the body.
When the defense began their closing arguments, Bravo’s attorney Michael Ruppert told jurors that the 20-year-old was suicidal, not homicidal as the prosecution wants them to believe. He explained some of Bravo’s potentially incriminating writings and journal entries were more about his suicidal tendencies and his love for ex-girlfriend Erika Friman.
Ruppert reminded the jury of Bravo’s version of the story of what happened the day Christian disappeared. He said Bravo and Christian got into a fight inside Bravo’s SUV, that Bravo punched Christian in the nose while driving, then pulled over, beat him up and left. He discounted the testimony of Bravo’s former cellmate Michael Angelo, who said Bravo confessed to strangling Christian inside the SUV in the Walmart parking lot. “He’s a career criminal and a career snitch,” Ruppert said. He alleges that Angelo was snitching to cut a deal on his sentence.
Ruppert also tried to convince the jury that it would make no sense for Bravo to kill Christian in the parking lot, since there was a lot of traffic and security guards passing by.
Bravo’s defense team said from the beginning, police were tunnel vision looking at Bravo as a suspect. They said it began after police spoke to Christian’s father Carlos early on. Reportedly, when Bravo learned Christian was missing he asked police, “What did Pedro do to my son.”
The defense went on to remind jurors of all the testimony Bravo gave when he took the stand Thursday.
After the defense wrapped up Friday afternoon, the prosecution had 30 minutes for rebuttal.
In the rebuttal, defense argued if Bravo left Aguilar’s body at Streits 20 feet from the roadway as Bravo said, someone would have seen the body.
Bravo is accused of drugging and strangling his former inside his SUV in a Walmart parking lot then partially burying his body 60 miles west of Gainesville in very remote wooded area.
Bravo, who said at the time he was still “enamored” with his former girlfriend Friman, wanted to attend the University of Florida so that he could try to get back with her.
While in Gainesville, Bravo found out, through two friends, that Aguilar and Friman were dating. He said he was “crushed” and wanted to speak with Aguilar. He said he that things were adding up in his life, which led him to decide he was going to kill himself the following week but that he wanted to speak with Aguilar first.
Bravo said he used a payphone to “reach out” to Aguilar because he was afraid Aguilar would not pick up his call. He said he wanted to tell him how he “felt like a failure” and wanted to tell him that he was “breaking apart piece by piece.”
Aguilar and Bravo, according to Bravo’s testimony, ended up meeting for coffee at The Hub and then the two walked over where Aguilar got a flu shot. The two teens then got into the car to get something to eat—that’s when Aguilar, Bravo said, wanted to go to Best Buy to purchase the new Kanye West CD. After Best Buy, the two started to drive around.
Bravo said that he and Aguilar drove around, and began to discuss his situation in Gainesville. While parked in the parking lot of a strip mall, by a Walmart, Bravo asked Aguilar about his relationship with Friman. Bravo said that Aguilar at first denied the relationship, but then said that the two had indeed been dating.
The discussion, according to Bravo, began to get “very heated.” Bravo said that while driving, he turned around and hit Aguilar in the nose with his fist and that his nose started bleeding. Bravo said his adrenaline was rushing so he pulled over into a small driveway with some “skinny trees.”
The two, Bravo said, began to fight. Bravo said he landed on top of Aguilar. When asked if Aguilar hit his head Bravo said he wasn’t sure. Bravo left Aguilar there, said he only remembered him on the ground as he was leaving.
According to a jailhouse snitch Michael Angelo, Bravo told him he planned the murder in advance. He said Bravo initially told him he planned to poison him, slit his throat or choke him. He said Bravo even talked about the moment he said he killed Aguilar in his SUV.
“He got out like he had to find something in the back seat, he put a moving strap behind his neck, braced hiself and it took 13 minutes to die,” said Angelo.
Angelo said Bravo told him Aguilar tried to open the door once, but he just tightened his grip. He also said at one point, he nearly got caught. “he said he kinda got freaked out because while he was holding on to the strap that the security guard in the golf cart had rode by.
Bravo then explained how he wrapped Aguilar’s body in duct tape and drove about 60 miles out of town where he buried it in a shallow grave in a wooded area, according to Angelo.
Ezzell ended his argument by recounting all the details of Angelo’s story of what Bravo told him about Aguilar’s death. The court then recessed for lunch.
If convicted, Bravo faces life in prison.
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