Blood in SUV, hidden backpack helped lead to murder charge
Gov. Scott takes part in Saturday search, which fails to locate UF student Christian Aguilar
Published: Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 5:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 5:46 p.m.
Blood in his SUV, a backpack hidden in a closet and an admission that he beat Christian Aguilar to unconsciousness provided the probable cause leading to the arrest of Pedro Bravo on a first-degree murder charge in the disappearance of the University of Florida student.
While crews of police and volunteers — including Florida Gov. Rick Scott — searched again for Aguilar's body on Saturday without success, State Attorney Bill Cervone said the lack of a body is unusual in a murder case but added the circumstantial evidence was strong enough to charge Bravo, an 18-year-old Santa Fe College student.
"The ordinary murder case starts with the discovery of a body and works backward. This isn't ordinary, but it is legally permissible to prosecute for murder in the absence of a body," Cervone said on Saturday. "It requires circumstantial evidence proving death and I believe we have that."
Bravo's arrest report filed by the Gainesville Police Department states that Bravo ultimately told investigators that he and Aguilar were in his Chevrolet Blazer on Sept. 20 when Bravo punched Aguilar, 18, in the face and forced him out of the SUV.
The report states that Bravo got on top of Aguilar and beat him for 10 to 15 minutes until Aguilar lost consciousness.
"The defendant stated that the victim was barely breathing and not moving, lying on his back partially in the water, at the time the (defendant) left him," the report states.
Bravo turned off Aguilar's cellphone and threw it into a wooded, watery area, the report states. Police said cellphone records show Aguilar's phone was turned off about 8:14 p.m.
The arrest report adds that Bravo was driven by investigators to the area where he said he left Aguilar but Bravo did not reveal the location of Aguilar.
Police found Aguilar's backpack in a suitcase in a closet at Bravo's home.
Bravo's Blazer was processed for evidence and blood was found in several spots. GPD spokesman Ben Tobias said Saturday the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will fast-track its testing of the blood to determine if it matches Aguilar.
Tobias added that staff from UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences determined that dust found on Bravo's SUV is from limerock. GPD has asked that anyone whose home or business has a limerock driveway or is on a limerock road look for signs of disturbance or potential evidence.
Bravo, meanwhile, made his first appearance in court Saturday morning on the first-degree charge.
At Saturday's arraignment, Bravo stared straight-faced into the jail camera during the proceedings, according to the Miami Herald. He was denied bond.
Bravo's attorney, Ron Kozlowski, said Saturday it is too early to begin forming a defense strategy.
"Everybody, including the Bravo family, hopes to find Christian Aguilar alive," Kozlowski said. "We are not anywhere close to the point of figuring out a defense."
Kozlowski said police talked to Bravo for 10 to 12 hours without an attorney present.
"They spent a lot of time with him. What he shared with them, I don't know," Kozlowski said. "We said to the judge (at Saturday's arraignment) that we have questions about the probable cause, but we didn't feel this morning was the appropriate time to go into that."
Gov. Scott, meanwhile, slipped into town and searched an area in the vicinity of Southwest 24th Avenue and 43rd Street with Aguilar's father, Carlos Aguilar. The media was not notified that Scott had participated in the search until after he had departed.
That area, which is north of Butler Plaza, had previously been combed over several times by police and volunteers.
The Aguilar family had no comment on the case Saturday.
Aguilar and Bravo are from Miami and attended the Doral Academy together. Aguilar was dating a young woman who Bravo had dated in Miami. The arrest report states that Bravo told police that the argument he had with Aguilar was over the woman.
Aguilar was last seen alive on a Sept. 20 surveillance video from Best Buy, and police said Bravo drove Aguilar there to buy the latest Kanye West CD.
Police said records show that Bravo had bought a small shovel and duct tape on Sept. 16. The shovel has not been found.
Bravo was arrested Monday on a charge of depriving a crime victim of medical treatment. The murder charge was added Friday evening.