GAINESVILLE – A Miami man who prosecutors say strangled a University of Florida student in a fit of jealousy over a woman choosing the victim over him was convicted Friday of first-degree murder.
After a two-week trial, the jury in Gainesville also convicted 20-year-old Pedro Bravo of six other counts in the death of 18-year-old Christian Aguilar. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty and Judge James Colaw sentenced Bravo to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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.
Aguilar’s farther, Carlos Aguilar, addressed the court before Bravo’s sentencing.
“I cannot tell you the quantity of pain that we have been going through,” he said.
Bravo had pleaded not guilty, saying he and Aguilar got into a fist fight the day the college student died but that he left Aguilar alive. Bravo remained defiant before his sentencing, rising and walking to the podium to speak.
“I know in my heart I did not do anything to hurt my friend that would cause him to die,” Bravo said to gasps in the courtroom.
“I know in my heart what I did, I know God knows what I did. I’ll take life or life without parole, and I’ll do it.”
Investigators found Aguilar’s blood in Bravo’s car and presented evidence that Bravo researched ways to drug people and dispose of bodies. Aguilar’s body was found in the woods.
The judge barred Bravo from ever contacting the Aguilar family or Erika Friman, the woman Aguilar was dating.
Prosecutors presented reams of writings by Bravo that showed he was obsessed with Friman, so much so that he decided not to attend Florida International University so he could move to Gainesville and pursue her.
Bravo had dated Friman while they were students at Doral Academy, a high school in Miami, where Aguilar also went to school. But when Bravo arrived in Gainesville, he learned that Friman and Aguilar had begun dating when the two moved to the city for college.
Bravo told friends he was suicidal after learning the news, but prosecutors presented evidence that he began planning Aguilar’s killing.
Aguilar went missing in September 2012 after he and the defendant spent hours together discussing Bravo’s depression over his breakup with Friman. Bravo had already bought what prosecutor’s called a “murderer’s starting pack” including a shovel, duct tape and enough sleeping drugs to knock someone out.
For days, Aguilar ducked Bravo’s attempts to meet with him. But after a mutual friend approached him on Bravo’s behalf, Aguilar reluctantly agreed in an effort to help with Bravo’s depression. On September 20, the two spent hours together eating and buying a CD at Best Buy.
Prosecutors say the two men were in Bravo’s SUV in a Wal-Mart parking lot when Bravo slipped into the backseat, grabbed a strap, and choked Aguilar to death.
Forensic analysis determined it took Aguilar 13 minutes to die -- his blood and DNA were found in Bravo’s car.
Taking the stand in his own defense, Bravo said he and Aguilar fought, and that he left his friend lying injured on the ground. But Aguilar was still alive, Bravo said.
Two hunters found Aguilar’s body buried in a shallow grave in the woods miles from Gainesville in a neighboring county.
Cellphone records placed Bravo in those woods, and showed that he used his iPhone’s flashlight while there for nearly an hour.
Prosecutors also found the shovel Bravo bought hidden under a walking bridge at Bravo’s apartment complex. Tests showed it contained the same rare mineral found at Aguilar’s grave site.
Aguilar’s remains showed that he’d been bound in duct tape that matched samples found in Bravo’s car.
Bravo told detectives numerous stories about what happened -- changing his account every time police found new evidence.
Jason Dearen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/JHDearen