Its been more than three years since the lifeless body of 31-year-old Aileen Seiden was dumped in a cul-de-sac at a vacant subdivision off U.S. 98, a day after authorities say she was bludgeoned to death in an Eastpoint motel room where she stayed over the weekend with two traveling companions from South Florida.
Within days, Christina Araujo, 40, of Loxahatchee, and Zachary Abell, 32, of North Miami Beach, had been picked up by the Broward County sheriffs office, their whereabouts disclosed to authorities by a mutual friend in Davie with whom they had shared details of what had happened just a few days earlier.
By the middle of May 2018, both had been arrested for second degree homicide and extradited to the Franklin County Jail. By then Seidens friends had joined together to memorialize her on the sands along Miami Beach, where she had grown up and lived out a brief, tumultuous life.
It had all been a fairly fast-paced turn of tragic events, wrapped up less than a month after that brutal moment, April 22 or 23, when Seidens life was beaten out of her.
The meting out of justice has taken quite a bit longer, however, hampered by the countys inability to conduct any jury trials, let alone one sure to attract more than its share of interest and in-person audience.
And one that could well involve two defendants, on trial for the same charges, arguing two very contrasting tales of the terror that must have reigned that night, within earshot of the elegant peacocks that stroll the grounds of the Sportsmans Lodge.
With the gates now open to resume jury trials before Circuit Judge Jonathan Sjostrom, it will be autumn at the earliest before such a trial would be held, with convictions that carry possible life sentences on the line. Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled in June 2019 the two would be tried together, after the state announced it would not introduce into evidence out-of-court statements by Abell and Araujo, which could have the effect of being more incriminating to one than the other.
No arguments were made on the motion in view of the states announcement that the statements would not be offered into evidence, wrote Dodson.
From the court cases inception, Araujo, daughter of Col. Antonio Araujo, head of uniform operations for the Palm Beach Sheriffs Office, has been represented by two high-profile criminal attorneys, Scott Richardson, of West Palm Beach, and James Judkins, of Tallahassee.
Abell has been represented by different public defenders, and as of January, his case was shifted to Alex Morris, of Tallahassee, an experienced criminal defense attorney. Sarah Konwinski, the assistant regional conflict counsel, had informed the court that her staff had a conflict of interest, and so Morris, who is on the regional registry of conflict counsel, was appointed.
One of Morris first motions, which was granted, was to request up to $1,500 for private investigator services to assist in his clients defense.
With the next scheduled case management hearing slated for mid-July, Morris will also have to deal with a third-degree felony that was added to Abells charges, battery on an inmate, stemming from a Jan. 13, 2021 incident at the Franklin County Jail.
According to a report prepared by Capt. James Hamm, the charge was filed based on evidence collected, from security footage and interviews, regarding a confrontation between Abell and Jacinto Negron in the common area of the jail.
The report said as Negron walked towards the bathroom area, to get into line for medications, Abell pushed him from behind, and then linked arms with him and headbutted him, knocking him to the ground. Negron later told Hamm he suspected the confrontation may have been prompted by a letter he wrote to the courthouse about someone in the dorm, that may have been misinterpreted.
Abell told Hamm that after Negron had been taken out of the dorm due to having issues with other inmates, jail staffers asked to put him back in the dorm due to not having any room to house him.
(Abell said) since he had been back (Negron) had been antagonizing him, Hamm wrote, adding that Negron would walk by his room and make comments like Oh you dont shower, you stink. Abell told the officer that he hasnt had any issues with people, that he doesnt bother nobody, that he tries to help people.
What triggered the incident, Abell said, was that Negron walked past and told him he was going to beat his ass.
Abell went on to tell Hamm that he was not going to have this man walk around and he have to walk on eggshells. (He said) he had already been sucker punched in this facility and lost two teeth, with a man hitting him down and kicking him in the face.
Abell said he could not let him talk to him any kind of way because this is jail. If you let them do that, then everyone is going to do it. He described the confrontation as like a bear hug, after Negron had grabbed him, and Abells instincts were to protect himself.
An eyewitness to the incident told investigators that Negron had been picking at Abell for a couple days, and had told him he was going to whoop his ass.