GAINESVILLE – A 20-year-old Miami man orchestrated a plan to drug and strangle a University of Florida student because of an obsession with an ex-girlfriend who had dumped him for the victim, a prosecutor said during opening statements in a murder trial today.
Pedro Bravo researched “how do sleeping pills kill you?” and bought a shovel to hide the body before slaying Christian Aguilar in September 2012, said prosecutor Brian Kramer. Kramer told jurors that the two men, who attended the same Miami-area high school, were hanging out in Bravo’s car at a Gainesville Wal-Mart when the Aguilar was killed.
His face ashen with dark circles around his eyes, Bravo showed little emotion as Kramer walked jurors through a grisly murder timeline. Bravo faces seven charges including first-degree murder, poisoning and mishandling human remains.
Kramer said Bravo had become obsessed with winning back his ex-girlfriend, Erika Firman, and was jealous of Aguilar.
Jurors were shown images from Bravo’s journal.
“No one will stop me. I will get out of Miami and into Gainesville ... and I will get her back!” Bravo wrote after choosing to move to Gainesville instead of attending Florida International University.
On the stand, Firman said she was “in shock” when Bravo sent her a text message saying he had moved to town and wanted to get back together. She said she wasn’t comfortable seeing him.
“I didn’t think someone would pack up their bags and move that far for a girl,” she said. “I was just a little surprised by everything.”
Bravo’s attorney, Michael Ruppert, said his client did not kill Aguilar. He told the jury that Bravo and Aguilar got into a fistfight the day the UF student disappeared, but that Bravo had let an injured and angry Aguilar out of his car that day.
“He punches his friend Christian, pulls over and there’s a fight,” Ruppert said. “When he left Christian Aguilar was breathing and alive.”
However, the prosecution said Bravo had spent days planning the murder. Kramer showed jurors photographs of Bravo buying duct tape and a shovel from Lowe’s - the same duct tape prosecutors say was found on Aguilar’s bones.
Kramer said a search of Bravo’s car unearthed a plastic drink bottle with sleeping pill residue, suggesting that Aguilar was drugged before he was strangled. Empty sleeping pill capsules were found at Bravo’s house.
Bravo got a mutual friend to set up a meeting, and the two hung out for hours before Bravo drove to the Wal-Mart parking lot and strangled Aguilar, prosecutors said.
“It took Chris 13 minutes to die,” Kramer said, describing how Bravo slid into his SUV’s backseat as the two were sitting in the parking lot.
“He throws the strap or whatever it is over the seat. Chris is looking forward, listening to music. (Bravo) leans back against the seat, braces himself against the seat ... cuts off (Aguilar’s) airway and cuts off blood flow to the brain.”
After the strangling, Kramer said Bravo drove Aguilar’s body to a wooded area and buried it before getting his car washed.
Still, Aguilar’s blood and DNA were found in Bravo’s SUV -- and prosecutors say Bravo tried to cover the stains up by spilling paint over them.
Bravo’s attorney Ruppert said Aguilar’s blood was spilled during their fight.
Carlos Aguilar, Christian’s father, said his son was fulfilling a dream to attend UF and was extremely happy at the time.
Aguilar said his son was not a fighter, and would have fled Bravo before things got physical.
“My son was not a fighting person, he’d rather go away than fight,” Aguilar said.