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(Shutterstock)A pregnant woman was stabbed to death in her home in 2005. The husband who reported finding her claimed he had left the house as she was preparing for bed, and she had already taken out her contact lenses and switched to eyeglasses. Owing to a tempestuous marriage, the husband was immediately a suspect, but the case went cold for years with the lack of hard evidence.

But, Raven Abaroa was arrested in 2010. He eventually pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in 2014, based partly on newly-unearthed evidence: the contact lenses still in Janet Abaroa’s eyes as she was exhumed in 2010.

A study of the decomposition of the contacts is the focus on a new study in the latest Journal of Forensic Sciences.

“This key piece of material evidence was instrumental in providing factual proof refuting the defendant’s testimony in the murder trial. Simulation studies provided further verification and science-based proof for these findings,” writes Charles Zwerling, the ophthalmologist from the Goldsboro Eye Clinic in North Carolina who performed the analysis.

The lenses had fractured due to dehydration over the six years in the casket, according to the paper. The Acuvue lenses had also yellowed, thinned and developed micro-tears, according to the analysis of the unearthed evidence.

Janet Abaroa’s contacts were compared against a control group of lenses which were put on two sets of enucleated pig eyes. The animal eyes were embalmed, sprayed with Dodge Dis Spray, a funeral requirement in North Carolina, and were buried in a wooden casket, according to the study.

A new detective looking through the inventory on the then-cold Janet Abaroa case found the contact lenses conspicuously missing. Raven Abaroa had said that as he left the house for a soccer match the night of April 26, 2005, that his wife was wearing glasses because she had taken out her lenses to prepare for bed. Surviving family members of the victim confirmed she never wore her contacts to bed.

The discrepancy in the details of the case permitted the exhumation. The lenses were found in the remains, which cast doubt on the husband’s story of the night of the murder.

Though disinterred in 2010, the eyes and lenses from the victim remained untested until 2013, according to the study. 

The study said contact lenses could provide important forensic evidence in future cases.

“A procedure for examining recovered contact lenses from crime scenes is important for ensuring objective conclusions,” the ophthalmologist Zwerling writes. “Moreover, contact lenses should be preserved in conditions that allow for additional examination of original material by other experts. The guidelines created in this investigation are offered as an operating procedure for future cases involving contact lenses as forensic evidence.”

Raven Abaroa, who was accused of killing his wife due to financial and infidelity conflicts, had taken the couple’s infant son to Utah just weeks after his wife’s killing. He was arrested in 2010, and his murder trial resulted in a mistrial in 2013.

He took an Alford plea to the manslaughter charge in 2014, by which he maintained his innocence of the crime, while admitting the evidence appeared to incriminate him. He could be released as early as 2018.

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