Pedro Bravo is a murderer.
So said the jury, who found him guilty of the murder of his friend, Christian Aguilar.
“That is not a label I gave him,” Christian’s father, Carlos Aguilar, told the media after the verdict. “It is a label he gave himself.”
But Bravo gave himself other labels, as revealed in a series of letters and drawings he sent to the Alligator.
Alligator Staff Writer Chris Alcantara, who has since graduated, began corresponding with Bravo while he was in the Alachua County Jail.
The letters are written in the same style seen in Bravo’s journal, which was filled with song lyrics, moody quotes and brooding about his girlfriend, Erika Friman, and his future.
His favorite sad song, he said, is “Sparks” by Coldplay.
The writing is small, neat and precise. In careful, delicate lines, Bravo revealed that he grew up in Hialeah before moving to Sweetwater to attend Doral Academy, where he first met Erika and Christian.
“I remember growing up as a child we never had much of anything, but my parents did everything they could to make it a happy childhood,” he wrote.
Bravo had a group of friends he was close with, including Erika, Christian and several friends he hung out with often in Gainesville.
“I am different with a strange but pleasing sense of humor, friendly though rather shy, but once I am out of my shell since I think I have gotten to know you better I can be a real good friend,” he wrote.
Bravo liked to volunteer, especially at animal shelters. He told the jury the Alachua shelter was one of the first places he visited in Gainesville.
He was an honors student. While attending Doral, he’d worked on his dual degree at Miami Dade College. He had a scholarship to Florida International University to study biomedical engineering.
But he wasn’t happy there.
In his turn on the stand, Bravo told the jury he and his friends would dismiss FIU. As honors students, they joked that if they failed in college, “at least I can get into FIU.”
Bravo applied to no other college, but assured the jury that he had the grades and extracurriculars to get into UF.
Right around high school graduation, the tensions between Bravo and Erika, who had been dating more than two years, became unbearable.
She was unhappy, he said. She’d tried to end the relationship in December, but Bravo begged her to give it another shot. In June, however, she put her foot down.
“Things had escalated in our relationship. I didn’t feel the same as when we began dating. It was complicated,” she told the jury.
Bravo was deeply upset by the breakup. Erika was moving on, moving up to Gainesville to attend Santa Fe, while he was still in Miami, at FIU. She didn’t want to do long distance.
At FIU orientation, he said the feeling of being someplace he shouldn’t was overwhelming, so he decided to move to Gainesville in hopes of a fresh start and rekindling things with Erika.
“I moved up to Gainesville for college (sic) but one of the reasons was also to ease or speed up the change from being dependent to independent,” he wrote.
He arrived in late August, moving into Spyglass Apartment Y177 with random roommates.
He began to find his footing in Gainesville. He signed up for classes: art and chemistry. He caught up with old friends and began running every other day “to blow off steam.”
He liked playing video games, describing himself as a “PC gamer at heart.” He was active on his Steam account, a massive online video game store, particularly the game “Atom Zombie Smasher.”
But the two hobbies he held most dear were the two most dissected on the stand.
“He did do graffiti. He was very artistic — is very artistic,” Erika told the jury.
Bravo told the jury he was interested in everything from painting on the 34th Street Wall to notebook sketches for friends. His journal is filled with doodles, both elaborate and casual.
“Art is like oxygen for me, (sic) what else can cool the mind and tame the heart than the cunning mastery of a brush or pencil,” he wrote.
In jail, his artistic options were more limited. He drew with a black safety pen and watercolored with the dye on peanut M&Ms.
“Ever held a pack of M&M’s and have the color transfer to your palms. Eureka,” he wrote.
Bravo told the jury the shovel he bought, which the state proved was used to bury Christian, was for his new hobby of moss graffiti.
He collected soil and lichen samples, blended them with buttermilk and thickeners, and then sprayed them onto walls. With regular misting, the shapes would grow into natural art.
When he was younger, Bravo dabbled in playing violin. He’s also a self-proclaimed history nerd. He told the jury his Internet searches for “types of unsolved murders” were prompted by a particularly scintillating History channel show.
Musically, he likes sounds from the 1950s, indie rock, classical and hip-hop.
He especially likes listening to music while he goes on “aimless drives” in an effort to lose himself on the road. All friends who testified agreed that Bravo loved to drive.
Much of his testimony about the night of Christian’s murder centered on Bravo’s affinity to drive without a destination in mind.
The driving calmed him, Bravo said. Especially during the first few weeks in Gainesville, when the suicidal thoughts he’d been battling for the past four years became stronger.
This was compounded by Bravo’s relationship with his parents. They weren’t happy with him leaving FIU, or with how he spent money, or with how he wrecked his car a few weeks prior.
His father said their relationship had gone “from bad to worse.”
Bravo tried to tell other friends about it, but he said they didn’t understand. His close friend Rosa Felibert “looked at me like she wanted to rip my head off.”
He had his friends take all the knives from his house, just in case. On the stand, other friends said Bravo “played the suicide card” often.
Bravo wanted to speak with a friend who could relate, he told the jury. So he arranged to meet Christian at the UF Hub and discuss his suicidal thoughts.
In his journal, he wrote at length about those feelings.
“I got my heart broken, I went through a personal hell only the confines of this book knows,” he wrote.
These feelings came to a head on Sept. 20, 2012 — the night of Christian’s murder.
Bravo denies murdering his friend. He said he left Christian beaten but alive, and he said was off attempting suicide after.
His last entry in his journal, from that night, was a suicide note:
“Im sorry. There is no right way to explain why Im doing this;
Im selfish, inconsiderate, and hopeless.
I dont want to be forgiven; I dont deserve it.
I just want to stop hurting and I want to be happy.
Maybe I was wrong, maybe this was the biggest mistake ever
But for far too long I have felt this way. Now it ends
This would be easier with you who miss me to be mad at me
To remember all my faults, to be angry at me
So your anger may take hold over your sadness
I am flawed but now those flaws come to an end
Hopefully I will be happy.
- Pedro A. Bravo”
[A version of this story ran on page 8 on 8/27/2014 under the headline "Letters from a killer"]
Pedro Bravo testifies in court Thursday to share his version of the events of the day Christian Aguilar disappeared and the days following.