GAINESVILLE -- Pedro Bravo was found guilty on Friday of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole in the killing of University of Florida freshman Christian Aguilar after a two-week trial that centered on jealousy, rage, unrequited love, suicide and, ultimately, murder.
Bravo stared straight ahead after a court clerk read the verdict aloud in Alachua County Criminal Justice Center Courtroom 1B. Both the Aguilar and Bravo families were present, both in tears. Sentencing immediately followed the verdict, with the Aguilar family addressing the judge.
Carlos Aguilar, the young man’s father, went first: “Our life was destroyed on Sept. 20, 2012,” the day the UF freshman went missing.
Claudia Aguilar, his mother, spoke in a broken voice about Bravo, who had been a high school friend of her son’s: “He made the most terrible decision for me and my family.”
Their younger son, Alexander, who now attends UF, also addressed the judge. “It’s been agonizing — so much pain and agony. I am now a student at the University of Florida. I would have loved to spend time with my brother here but that is never going to happen. I trusted the jury and they didn’t fail me.”
And then Bravo spoke, too, refusing blame. “It doesn’t matter what anyone says. I know in my heart what I did. I did not kill my friend.”
Alachua County Circuit Judge James Colaw was unmoved, piling an additional 40 years on top of life in prison without possibility of parole. “This is your day of reckoning,” he told Bravo before announcing the sentences.
Along with first-degree murder, Bravo, 20, was convicted of false imprisonment, poisoning, providing false information to law enforcement officers and other charges.
As Bravo was sentenced, he looked toward his mother in the courtroom. She was weeping and made the sign of the cross.
Prosecutors said Bravo killed Aguilar by poisoning and strangulation, jealous over the relationship Aguilar had with Bravo's ex-girlfriend, Erika Friman. He then drove about an hour to Levy County and dumped his body in the woods.
After nine days of testimony and more than 1,000 pieces of evidence on both sides, the jury — eight women, four men — deliberated more than three hours. Though Bravo took the stand and testified for more than two hours on what happened on Sept. 20, 2012, they concluded Aguilar’s death was no accident.
The verdict, almost two years after Aguilar first disappeared, marks the end of a tragic chapter that started with panicked phone calls from Gainesville and distraught parents on a relentless search for their missing son. On Friday night, Aguilar's father, Carlos — who attended trial everyday with his wife, younger son and two dozen family members — found long-awaited justice.
In an interview before the verdict, Carlos Aguilar spoke about finally seeing the case reach a trial. “The reality is the verdict will not bring my son back. But Pedro was held accountable. I promised Christian at his burial that there would be justice.”
Aguilar, 18, was last seen entering a Gainesville Best Buy with Bravo to buy a Kanye West CD. When he went missing, the Gainesville and Miami communities united to find him, searching for 22 days across much of the college town. Aguilar’s skeletal remains were discovered in a shallow grave in woods in Levy County, about 60 miles from Gainesville. He had been bound with duct tape.
Police found blood in Bravo’s SUV, as well as Aguilar’s backpack hidden in Bravo’s apartment. They also found a receipt showing that Bravo had purchased duct tape and a shovel in the days before Aguilar's disappearance. Bravo was arrested within days.
Bravo’s lawyers had painted a picture of a young man tormented and ready to die. He had cut his wrists, written about his own death in journals and letters and was involuntarily committed for mental health reasons by police, all as he struggled with the breakup from Friman.
But prosecutors said Bravo was the smart, nefarious mastermind behind a plot to kill Aguilar.
The three young people had attended high school together at Doral Academy Preparatory School.
During Bravo’s sentencing, the judge ordered him to have no contact with the Aguilar family or with Friman.
Friman, who testified during the trial, was in court for the verdict. “I am relieved. I am exhausted. It’s been a long two years but I feel like the weight has finally been lifted off of us.”
Afterward, Carlos Aguilar said he’s not ready to forgive. “Not yet, because Pedro Bravo didn’t show any [remorse]. He did not admit his guilt.”