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Pedro Bravo took the stand Thursday to defend himself against his first-degree murder charge, among others.
Bravo, who was not originally planning to testify, spoke at length about his relationship with Christian Aguilar, the man he is accused of killing, and the events of the night Aguilar went missing.
He laughed, smiled and joked with the jury under questioning from his attorney, but answered with cool, terse, single-word responses under the firestorm of questions by the prosecution.
Most of his story corresponded with what he had told officers earlier in video interviews the jury watched last week.
A main theme in Bravo’s testimony was his suicidal thoughts. He has scars on his arms and neck from all the times he’s hurt himself, he told the jury. He repeated that his meeting with Aguilar was to discuss these thoughts before they turned to actions.
He described his education plans post-high school graduation as “in limbo.” He had a partial scholarship for biomedical engineering to Florida International University, but he felt like a failure.
At orientation, he said “the feeling of being somewhere I didn’t want to be anymore was too much,” so he decided to move someplace new — Gainesville.
When he arrived, he hoped to rekindle his relationship with his high school love, Erika Friman. His friend, Aguilar, told him he should go for it, Bravo said.
But when Bravo arrived in August — a month early — Aguilar changed his mind, telling him he should have talked to Friman first.
When Bravo heard a few weeks later that Friman and Aguilar were dating, he said it felt like a bombshell.
“I’m crushed. He’s one of my best friends,” he said. “I find out the worst possible way, from two of my friends.”
A few weeks later, Bravo decided to kill himself. He set a date — Thursday, Sept 20. His friends were angry and upset, so he decided to turn to his high school friend who had always understood the struggle with depression and self-harm.
Aguilar didn’t immediately get back to him, which stressed Bravo out. He became impatient.
“If its gonna be past Thursday, then it’s gonna be a little bit of a problem,” he told the friend setting up the meeting.
They agreed to meet at the UF Hub, and they began the conversation in earnest in the Wal-Mart parking lot, Bravo said, after a quick interlude of transporting a hitchhiker.
When the pair discussed Friman, Bravo said Aguilar denied that they were going out at first, but later said they were, which Bravo said he trusted.
“If he told me tomorrow there would be no rain, I wouldn’t carry an umbrella,” Bravo said.
Under rapidfire cross-examination later in the day, Bravo said he took “going out” to mean as friends, not dating. The state didn’t buy it.
“Let’s get this straight. When you were in the car, he told you they were having sex,” Brian Kramer, of the state, said.
Bravo denied it. He said he first believed they were truly dating in the police station the next morning, when Friman called Aguilar her boyfriend. In police interviews, Bravo said the couple had been dating for three weeks. In court today, he said it had really been more like two months.
He said the fight between him and Aguilar was just about Bravo’s suicidal thoughts, and the punch to the nose that began it all happened in the backseat.
Noting the blood stain — which was confirmed to be Aguilar’s blood — was mostly centralized in the passenger seat directly behind the driver, Kramer asked Bravo how he could have possibly reached all the way around behind him with his left hand, punched Aguilar in the face and continued driving.
Bravo also clarified that in his original interviews, he beat Aguilar for “what felt like” 10 to 15 minutes, not 10 to 15 minutes exactly.
“It was just a fight between guys, and I wish it was less than that,” Bravo said. “I feel like im going to regret that decision for the rest of my life.”
But in a break from the previous versions of his stories, Bravo went on to say that after he left Aguilar in the small parking lot of Streit’s Motorsports, he attempted to commit suicide.
Bravo drove north on Racetrack Road for about 30 minutes, he told the jury. In the passenger seat of his car, he had a Gatorade bottle filled with the powder from sleeping pills and some pesticide — both of which he bought on Sept. 16.
He pulled over on the side of the road and fumbled for the bottle and a Sharpie. He had to use his flashlight app, he said, both in the car and out, as he stumbled to the nearest tree.
When he found one, he wrote “Pedro Andres Bravos 9/20/2012” on the bark and downed the concoction.
“It didn’t go down well,” he said. “A few seconds later I completely threw up.”
Bravo said he lay on the ground wheezing and contemplating life. He took this failed suicide attempt — his 10th or 12th — as a “sign from God” he shouldn’t try to take his own life again.
He drove back home, grabbing McDonald’s on the way because he hadn’t eaten all day, and had recently vomited, he said.
Bravo agreed to all pieces of evidence the state has against him. He agreed that all receipts, security footage and location data is correct, with the exception of one cell phone data point showing him heading west on Archer Road the night Aguilar went missing.
He says he stopped near Racetrack Road to kill himself, and did not head to Levy County’s Gulf Hammock hunting club, where the body was found.
He said he washed the clothes he was wearing that night by themselves because he was worried the pesticide-tinged vomit on his clothes would stain other clothes.
He used cash for his purchases because his parents check his transactions “with what I would describe as a devotion,” and he didn’t want to explain the multiple purchases.
The Internet searches were for suicide, not murder, he said. The search for “unsolved murder stats” was related to a History channel show he was watching that night.
He washed his car because he was worried his parents would be angry that he had damaged it in an accident, and he thought they would appear at any time, he said.
He hid Aguilar’s backpack inside a suitcase in his closet for the same reason — so his parents wouldn’t find it.
The shovel was because he intended to dig his own grave and also use it for an art project. He said he collected samples of dirt and moss, mixed it with buttermilk and left in under the boardwalk at Spyglass to grow. The resulting paste could be applied to walls as a form of “moss graffiti.”
He denies telling Michael Angelo where the shovel was. He said officers just made a lucky guess in finding it.
The letter with the devil drawing was attributed to Angelo, his cell mate, as well. Bravo said Angelo threatened him with physical harm, harm to his parents and with the promise of telling officers about Bravo’s suicidal thoughts, so he couldn’t carry them out.
Bravo said Angelo dictated the letter to him, explaining the messy cursive and improper grammar. He said he didn’t care if the letter got out, which it only could through an attorney, he said, because he hoped to be dead by then.
The details of the letter were drawn from the newspaper and TV news the inmates are allowed to watch. Angelo came up with the letter as a plan to have his sentence reduced, Bravo said. He also claimed Angelo had never identified himself as a gang member.
The state also played an audio recording of a conversation between Friman and Bravo, a week after his arrest. He told her he was wrong to believe she was “ everything in the world.”
“We wouldn’t be here if you had let me kill myself,” he told her.
As for Aguilar’s cause of death, it still isn’t clear.
“The only two people in this trial who’ve testified that the cause of death was strangulation are you – in this letter – and Michael Angelo, who said you said it,” Kramer told Bravo.
“Those weren’t my words,” Bravo replied. “They’re Angelo’s.”
Both the state and defense have rested. On Friday, both will give their closing statements, and the jury will begin deliberation immediately after.
Pedro Bravo testifies in court Thursday to share his version of the events of the day Christian Aguilar disappeared and the days following.
The defense questions Bravo during his testimony Thursday.