Aguilar's parents, girlfriend testify as murder trial gets underway


Erika Friman, the girlfriend of slain University of Florida student Christian Aguilar, points out former boyfriend and murder defendant Pedro Bravo while on the stand during Bravo's trial in Gainesville on Tuesday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at 11:46 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at 11:46 a.m.

University of Florida student Christian Aguilar was strangled in 13 minutes in a Wal-Mart parking lot in jealousy and anger by Pedro Bravo out of an obsession that Aguilar was dating Bravo's former girlfriend, Assistant State Attorney Brian Kramer said in opening statements at Bravo's murder trial Tuesday morning.

Testimony got underway and one of key witnesses was the girlfriend, Erika Friman.

“This dead man has a lot to tell us about what happened to him,” Kramer said. “This is a story as old as time — elimination of a rival fueled by jealousy and anger.”

But Bravo's attorney, Michael Ruppert told another story — that his client had suicidal thoughts and Aguilar poured fuel on the fire.

“Pedro has a history of suicidal ideations, was upset and wanted to talk to his friend,” Ruppert said in his opening statement. “Christian Aguilar told Pedro Bravo, 'Why don't you just go ahead and kill yourself.' Pedro reached over and punched his friend.”

But, Ruppert added, Bravo did not kill Aguilar.

Bravo, 20, is on trial for murder, kidnapping and other charges for the Sept. 20, 2012, death of Aguilar, 18, at the Northwest 13th Street Wal-Mart and burying the body in a forest off State Road 24 near Cedar Key in Levy County.

The two were friends who had attended the Doral Academy high school in Miami together.

Witness testimony got underway Tuesday with Aguilar's parents, Carlos and Claudia, taking the stand first. Carlos Aguilar testified that he was told of his son's disappearance by Friman and that Bravo told him that the two had fought.

“The first conversation I had with him he told me they had an argument and that he left him,” Carlos Aguilar said. “I told police I think Pedro did something to my son.”

Friman calmly described how she had been Bravo's girlfriend since the 10th grade at the Doral Academy but cut the relationship in part because she was moving to Gainesville to attend Santa Fe College while Bravo planned to attend Florida International University in Miami.

Friman said her initial attempts to break the ties troubled Bravo.

“He was very distraught at the thought of us not being together,” Friman said. “There was a lot of crying. It was very hard for him. I thought it was a little strange but I wasn't sure if it was the norm. It's not like what you see in the movies.”

Friman testified for about a half-hour before the trial was recessed. She is expected to continue testifying Wednesday.

She said she knew Aguilar from high school and the friendship grew into a romantic relationship shortly after they moved to Gainesville. One of their first dates was watching fireworks for the Fourth of July.

“It was just a phone call but it kind of escalated,” she said. “We told each other we had feelings for each other. We were really surprised and happy.”

Later, Bravo sent her a message saying he had moved to Gainesville and wanted to meet with her. Friman said she initially ignored his messages and phone calls believing that Bravo would eventually get over her.

Also testifying were several Doral Academy classmates who moved to Gainesville to attend college. They said they communicated with Bravo and learned he had also moved to Gainesville to try to get back together with Friman, who by then was dating Aguilar.

They said he was suicidal.

“Pedro you can't. She's not worth it,” classmate Nadia Echegoyen testified she told Bravo in a text message regarding suicide.

During his opening statement, Kramer showed pictures of Aguilar's body after it was found by hunters on Oct. 17. Bravo impassively looked at the skeletal remains when they were shown on a screen.

They were among several pictures shown by Kramer, including photos of Bravo and Aguilar as high school friends in Miami and surveillance photos of them buying a Kanye West CD at Best Buy in Gainesville.

Other surveillance pictures showed Bravo buying a shovel, drugs, duct tape, a knife and other items from Lowe's and Wal-Mart.

Kramer also showed entries in Bravo's journal and sketchbook that he said make it clear he never got over his breakup from Friman and the fact that she was dating Aguilar.

“Every plan has a goal, and this is the goal,” Kramer said, displaying a picture of Friman. “His plan is to get her back. He's got to reunite with Erika.”

In planning the murder, Kramer said, Bravo did a number of searches on his computer regarding murder, anesthetics, the cutting of veins and other topics.

In the late afternoon of Sept. 20, the men were in Bravo's car near the Krystal restaurant by Wal-Mart when Bravo suffocated Aguilar by tightening something — possibly a belt — around his neck from the back seat, Kramer said. It's also alleged that at some point he drugged Aguilar.

“He cuts off the air to his airway and blood to his brain,” Kramer said. “He would later (tell someone) it took Christian 13 minutes to die.”

Ruppert, however, said that Aguilar and Bravo were talking in the car when the comment about suicide was made and a punch thrown.

Bravo drove to a nearby location and left Aguilar there after a fight. The place couldn't be pinpointed, and Bravo later gave varying accounts of it, because he was unfamiliar with Gainesville, Ruppert said.

“They pulled over and there is a fight. Christian lost the fight but he was still breathing and alive,” Ruppert said. “(Bravo) did not kill Christian Aguilar. He had no premeditation to kill Christian Aguilar. The police never investigated anyone else.”

Friman reported to police that Aguilar was missing when he failed to meet her as planned on Sept. 20.

Bravo initially told police the men got into a physical fight and that he left Aguilar on Northwest 13th Street, Kramer said. He added that Bravo also gave conflicting information.

Hundreds of people participated in searches for Aguilar throughout Gainesville and Alachua County in the weeks before his body was found. Many were from the Doral community in Miami who knew Aguilar or his family.

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