An image flashes on screen.
It’s three smiling teenagers dressed for prom.
Christian Aguilar is on the left, wearing a white tuxedo. Erika Friman is in the middle, in a blood-red, floor-length dress. Pedro Bravo is on the right, in a black tuxedo.
The photo was taken of three friends during their senior year at Doral Academy, a charter school in Miami. At the time, the photo was shared on Facebook. Now, it’s shared with a jury.
Christian Aguilar, a UF student, was reported missing on Sept. 21, 2012, and his remains were found in a shallow grave in Levy County 22 days later.
The State of Florida has accused Pedro Bravo, a former Santa Fe College student, of the murder, among a slew of other charges. It is not seeking the death penalty.
The trial began Monday, in courtroom 1B in the Alachua County Courthouse Criminal Justice Center. The state began its opening statement with that photo and continued with what it assumes are the events for that night and the weeks leading up to it.
The last time Aguilar was seen alive, he was at Best Buy on Archer Road with his estranged high school friend, Bravo. They were buying the latest Kanye West CD. In the security footage, they are both smiling.
The pair met to discuss Bravo’s depression and suicidal thoughts, both the defense and prosecution agree.
What they disagree on is what happened afterward.
According to the state, the friends met at the UF Hub at around 2 p.m. on Sept. 20, 2012. They went to Zaxby’s, then Best Buy. They bought the CD and then drove around aimlessly, discussing Bravo’s issues.
At around 4 p.m., security footage shows Bravo’s car arriving in the parking lot of the old Wal-Mart on Northwest 13th Street.
At 6:49 p.m., the car left, and Aguilar was dead. His cause of death was strangulation, and it took him 13 minutes to die. The state said Bravo probably used a woven belt found in the car by police.
But according to the defense, Aguilar was alive when the car left the parking lot. They said Bravo and Aguilar picked up a hitchhiker, whom they let out later.
Then the pair got into an argument. Aguilar wanted to leave the car. Bravo then got him out of the car and "beat him for 10 to 15 minutes," leaving him bloody, on the ground and barely breathing.
When Aguilar’s girlfriend, Friman, called Bravo the next day asking where Aguilar was, he told her about the argument, but not the beating. He went with her to the police station to report Aguilar missing.
This was not Friman and Bravo’s first time meeting. The two had dated for almost three years in high school. As Friman testified on Tuesday, the breakup was messy and emotional on Bravo’s end.
He was set to attend Florida International University on scholarship, and Friman had her sights set on Santa Fe.
Over the last few days, the state has called Aguilar’s family and friends to the stand, as well as police officers and forensic experts.
Brian Kramer, who leads the prosecution, paints a picture of Bravo as a disturbed, suicidal individual who will do anything to get his former love back, including move to Gainesville and attend Santa Fe.
Upon his arrival in Gainesville, Bravo sought advice for reuniting with Friman with their mutual friends. One of them, Rosa Felibert, arranged the meeting between Aguilar and Bravo on the day of Aguilar’s disappearance, she testified on Tuesday.
On the stand, Friman read excerpts from Bravo’s sketchbook, which he uses as a journal.
"I want her back, please. I’ll give anything. Please, please, please…"
"No one will stop me I will get out of Miami and into Gainesville by January 2013 and I will get her back"
She also read from his suicide note, which he wrote during his first week in jail.
"Every day in here is a day spent waiting to die. I am a monster for hurting Chris the way I did and monsters shouldn’t exist in this world."
"I have spent everyday wishing to go back in time, to have taken my life before any of this happened."
Suicidal tendencies plagued Bravo, both sides agree. He wrote about it often, and one of his friends, Javiera Ramirez, testified Tuesday that he "played the suicide card often."
On Sept. 16 and 17, 2012, Bravo made a series of troubling Internet searches, which were shown to the jury during the testimony of Michael Antal, a digital forensics expert who searched Bravo’s computer.
He found searches like "what is chloroform," "good anesthetic chemicals," "how to slice your wrist the right way" and "why not to commit suicide."
Antal also found searches like "can rubbing alcohol knock someone out," "stats on unsolved murders" and "how do sleeping pills kill you."
In the opening statement, the state showed security footage stills where Bravo was buying a shovel, knife, duct tape and sleeping pills with cash on Sept. 16.
Gainesville Police Officer Ken Beerbower, who searched Bravo’s car the day Aguilar was reported missing, testified Wednesday that he found a Gatorade bottle with no label in Bravo’s trunk. It was filled with a powdery white substance.
Denise Holmquist, senior crime lab analyst for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, testified Wednesday that she tested the substance using a mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph.
She found that the powdery substance contained diphenhydramine and Acetaminophen, ingredients commonly found in ZZZQuil and Equate acetaminophen PM, the sleeping pill brands Bravo bought.
Gainesville Police Officer Ahipo Doualehi testified Wednesday that when he searched Bravo’s complex, he found Aguilar’s backpack balled up inside Bravo’s backpack.
It still contained Aguilar’s wallet, books with his name on them and a receipt for Aguilar’s free UF flu shot, dated Sept. 20, 2012.
Claudia Aguilar, Christian’s mother, testified Tuesday that she texted and called her son often, almost daily.
Aguilar sent his mom a picture of him smiling, showing off his free flu shot. It was the last text she ever received from her son.
Follow along with the rest of our trial coverage: @TheAlligator and @harrisalexc are tweeting with #BravoTrial, and we have our special section at alligator.org/bravo
[A version of this story ran on page 1 - 5 on 8/7/2014 under the headline "Pedro Bravo case continues"]
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.