Jury convicts Bravo of first-degree murder
Published: Friday, August 15, 2014 at 11:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 15, 2014 at 10:43 p.m.
A jury found Pedro Bravo guilty of first-degree murder and other charges Friday night in the death of University of Florida student Christian Aguilar, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
However, the jury found him guilty of the lesser offense of false imprisonment rather than kidnapping as charged.
Carlos Aguilar, Christian's father, asked Circuit Judge James Colaw for the maximum sentence. The death penalty was not sought, so life in prison was the harshest sentence that could be handed down.
"I cannot express how our lives were destroyed on Sept. 20 by the acts of Mr. Bravo. I cannot tell you of the pain we have gone through … My wife, son cry — my entire family," Christian's father said. "I ask you for the maximum amount of penalty. I also ask that he not contact my family again."
Carlos Aguilar's wife, Claudia Aguilar, broke down in tears when he was addressing Colaw.
Bravo spoke to the judge before sentencing, denying he killed Aguilar but saying he would accept his fate.
"There are no … words to explain this, no … words to explain two years of heartbreak … to his family, my family and anyone involved in this," Bravo said. "But I know in my heart, and I know God knows, that I did not kill Christian Aguilar. I will face my sentence. I will do my time."
At a news conference after the sentencing, Carlos Aguilar said he could not forgive Bravo because he has not acknowledged what he did.
"I am not ready to forgive. Pedro Bravo did not show any signs of repenting," he said. "He is the murderer of my son."
The jury's decision capped a two-year effort to bring Bravo to trial, which culminated in a two-week trial.
Bravo, 20, was found to have murdered Aguilar by strangling him in a Wal-Mart parking lot on Sept. 20, 2012, and burying Aguilar's body in a Levy County forest. The motive: jealousy and anger toward Aguilar because he was dating the young woman Bravo dated when they all attended Doral Academy high school in Miami.
In addition to the life sentence, Bravo was ordered to serve five years for false imprisonment, 30 years for poisoning, five years for tampering with evidence and five years for making a false police report. He was sentenced to time served in jail for obstructing an investigation and for mishandling a body.
The verdict came after several hours of closing arguments in which Assistant State Attorney Bill Ezzell said that Bravo's many journal entries that were read during the trial could be construed as referring to suicide or to murder.
"What tips it are his actions," Ezzell told jurors Friday morning. "He literally bought the murder starter pack."
Defense attorney Michael Ruppert countered that Bravo truly was suicidal and that the state's case dismisses that.
"It is imperative that the state's case convince you that Pedro Bravo never had suicidal ideations and that he never acted on those ideations," Ruppert said in his two-hour closing argument. "These were true and genuine thoughts in the mind of Pedro Bravo."
Ezzell took about three hours to lay out the state's case that Bravo murdered Aguilar.
His statement was essentially a recap of evidence — surveillance video showing Bravo buying a shovel and drugs, cellphone records tracking his movements and Internet searches, computer searches, his statements to police and to an Alachua County jail inmate.
Also recapped were Bravo's many journal entries regarding his suicidal intentions, his desire to win back his former girlfriend, and what the state contends was Bravo's murder plan.
"He is going to plan a murder," Ezzell said.
One comment by Ezzell prompted Ruppert to call for a mistrial.
Ezzell said an earlier statement from Assistant State Attorney Brian Kramer that it is "not smart to commit murder with a smartphone" had gone viral on Twitter.
Ruppert argued to Judge Colaw that the statement accomplished what Colaw and lawyers had sought to avoid — exposing jurors to media on the case.
"He essentially told the jury what we are trying not to do," Ruppert said.
Colaw denied the motion, saying the statement did not rise to the level of a mistrial. Colaw later told the jury that closing statements are not evidence.
Ezzell explained to the jury the definitions of all seven charges that Bravo is facing and how the facts of the case meet those definitions. He also covered lesser included offenses to the charges.
"The whole story is that (Aguilar) was murdered and lost his life," Ezzell said. "To find lesser included offenses that don't account for his death makes no sense. Tell the whole story."
Authorities allege Bravo strangled Aguilar, an 18-year-old University of Florida student, and buried his body in a shallow grave in a 30,000-acre tract owned by Plum Creek off State Road 24 near Cedar Key in Levy County.
Bravo testified Thursday that he and Aguilar argued in the Wal-Mart parking lot and later fought outside Streit's Motorsports of Northwest 13th Street. He said that Aguilar was alive when he left him.
Journal writings and Internet searches that the state contends indicate Bravo planned Aguilar's murder referred to his own intention to commit suicide, Bravo testified.
Ruppert recapped much of Bravo's testimony in his closing statement — that Bravo and Aguilar had a long, intense discussion in the Wal-Mart parking lot, that he punched Aguilar when he said Bravo should just kill himself and that a fight occurred at Streit's. Later that night, Ruppert said, Bravo drove to northern Alachua County and drank a mix of drugs and pesticide in Gatorade.
"It was a very intense fight, a fist fight. There were no weapons," Ruppert said. "He drinks this concoction and threw up all over himself almost immediately. He took it as a sign from God that ‘I shouldn't do this' so he composes himself."
Ruppert said police never looked for another suspect. Ruppert also cast doubt on the credibility of a jail inmate who provided prosecutors with conversations he allegedly had with Bravo in which Bravo detailed the murder. Ruppert also focused on the legal definitions of second-degree murder, manslaughter and excusable homicide.
Bravo and Aguilar attended the same Miami high school and were friends. Also attending the school was Erika Friman, who dated Bravo in high school but had started dating Aguilar when he came to Gainesville to attend UF and she to attend Santa Fe College.
Bravo had enrolled in Florida International University in Miami but moved to Gainesville to try to reunite with Friman.