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On Pedro Bravo’s first night in jail, he asked his cell mate, Michael Angelo, for two things — his pen and his shoelaces.
The pen was to write a suicide note, and the shoelaces were the method.
Angelo denied Bravo the shoelaces but gave him the pen.
Bravo’s suicide note was found the next day, in a random search by detention officer John Wells, and he was shuttled off to the suicide prevention area of the Alachua County Jail.
Bravo was imprisoned for denying medical care to a victim — his friend Christian Aguilar, whom he told police he beat for “10 to 15 minutes” until he lay unmoving on the ground.
After Aguilar’s body was found in a shallow grave in Levy county, Bravo’s charges were upped to first-degree murder.
Bravo’s trial, which began last week, has seen a litany of witnesses from various businesses and law enforcement agencies. But today, the jury got to hear from a convicted felon.
Angelo, who was a member of the gang Compton Crips, is currently facing five counts of felony charges. He’s been convicted nine times on charges ranging from owning guns as a convicted felon to recruiting gang members.
By agreeing to testify against Bravo, Angelo will receive a lighter sentence. The charges he’s currently facing have a mandatory minimum charge of 10 years, but two of them could end up in life sentences.
He is a prison releasee reoffender, which means he committed a crime within three years of being released. Therefore, his new charges carry much stricter penalties.
Angelo arrived in court on Wednesday wearing a red-striped prison uniform. He told the jury that he eventually bonded with Bravo over their mutual hobby of graffiti, but it took awhile for Bravo to open up.
“All he did was sit in the room and stare at the ceiling, crying,” Angelo said.
Eventually Bravo and Angelo began to talk, although the exact date of their conversations is unclear.
Bravo told him he had multiple plans for killing Aguilar, Angelo said. He was going to mix sleeping pills with pesticide and soda, or slit his throat.
But what he ended up doing, Bravo told Angelo, was strangling Aguilar with a moving strap while he sat in the passenger seat of Bravo’s car. Bravo sat in the back seat, bracing himself against the passenger seat.
He told Angelo that Aguilar tried to open the door once, but Bravo just tightened the strap.
“He said he remembered watching the clock on the radio. He said it took 13 minutes for the kid to die,” Angelo told the jury, a few members of which were crying.
Once Aguilar was dead, Bravo put him in the backseat with his ankles, wrists and mouth bound in duct tape. Bravo moved to the driver’s seat and continued to hold onto the strap.
Angelo said that Aguilar had made “weird noises” that spooked Bravo. Angelo imitated them, gasping and wheezing at the jury.
Bravo drove around with Aguilar in the back seat. He put the moving strap in a bag and threw it in the donation bin they were parked next to at the Wal-Mart parking lot.
He threw Aguilar’s phone out the window into a large pond or lake, but he later lied and told police he threw it in a creek, Angelo said.
Bravo was inconsistent about the duct tape, Angelo said. Sometimes he said he burned it, sometimes he said he threw it in the pond.
Angelo said the murder was premeditated.
He told the jury Bravo had secretly done Internet searches for nearby wooded areas he could bury a body in, before settling on Gulf Hammock Hunt Club.
He angled his truck so the headlights could shine on the grave site, Angelo said. But cutting through north Florida roots and limestone is tough work, and Bravo soon tired of it.
He left Aguilar’s body in a shallow grave, covered by a shrub and rock “to make it look normal,” Angelo said.
Bravo was now left with a limestone dusted, blood and bodily fluid stained car. He spilled soda on the front seat to cover where Aguilar had voided himself at death, Angelo said. He spilled black paint on the stains from the nosebleed in the back seat.
His story to police was just as calculated, Angelo told the jury.
The decision to tell police he had a fight was because of the blood stains in the back seat. Streit’s Motorsports, where Bravo told police he left Aguilar, was chosen for its exposed limestone, which would explain the limestone on his car.
Bravo also wrote another letter while he was in jail.
He passed it to Angelo in a chip bag, under his cell door. It detailed how Bravo planned to cover up the murder of Aguilar by inventing a serial killer using Angelo’s gang contacts. He offered to pay $1,000 to each person involved.
This letter, along with the suicide note and Bravo’s numerous journal entries, were matched by a handwriting analyst. He confirmed with his “highest confidence” that they were all written by Bravo.
The jail letter, characterized by a large devil drawn in the middle, began with “the gist of it i’ll put on here.”
Bravo mentions that the police have found Aguilar’s body, but that “they have nothing that can back it up.”
“That then brings out the brilliance of this plan,” he wrote.
Two more UF or Santa Fe College students could need to be murdered, he said, by strangulation and shooting them with a stun gun. Their bodies should be buried in surrounding counties.
The third victim would be the “murderer” (his quotations, not ours.) He would be “homeless or whatever,” and the body would be burned and decapitated. Near the body would be a list of the victims’ names.
A car with no plates should be left in the woods of Gulf Hammock Hunt Club.
Bravo also mentioned that the “shovel (he) bought” must be placed near the car. Bravo told Angelo he hid the shovel under a boardwalk at his apartment. Angelo informed his lawyer, who relayed the location to officers who later recovered the shovel.
The shovel had a smear on the tip that tested positive for adhesives. The smear matched the exact location where a sticker on a brand new shovel would be, as seen in security footage of Bravo holding his newly purchased shovel in the Archer Road Wal-Mart.
The state had experts refute parts of Angelo’s story. Dr. Willie Harris, a soil scientist at UF, confirmed that the soil from the bottom of Bravo’s car was very similar, but it was not an exact match to the soil found on the road by the grave site.
The soil found on the shovel was very similar to soil found in two places — underneath the boardwalk and at the grave site.
On Thursday, the state will call its final witness. There is also a possibility that Bravo may testify, as Judge James Colaw reminded him that it is his decision, and his alone, if he wants take the stand.
Alex Harris is the online editor of the Alligator and a 22-year-old journalism and sustainability studies senior. She likes cooking, spending time in the sun and making convincing cat noises.