In the nearly five years since a South Florida woman was bludgeoned to death at an East Point motel, and her lifeless body dumped in a cul-de-sac at a vacant subdivision off U.S. 98, a lot has happened.
A Category 5 hurricane slammed into the Panhandle, and a coronavirus pandemic drastically affected life in Franklin County.
Throughout that time, the two co-defendants accused of the murder of Aileen Seiden, 31, at the Sportsman’s Lodge on April 23, 2018, have remained in the Franklin County Jail.
It now appears likely that Zachary Abell, 35, of North Miami Beach, and Christina Araujo, 43, of Loxahatchee, will have their day in court at a joint trial during the last two weeks of February 2023.
On Nov, 8, Circuit Judge Jonathan Sjostrom granted a continuance of the trial, originally slated to begin Dec. 7, 2022, to open next year on Feb. 15 with jury selection, and then to run through March 3.
In a motion for a continuance filed by West Palm Beach attorney Scott Richardson, who along with Jacksonville attorney Henry Coxe is representing Araujo, the defense attorney argued the trial would take nearly twice as long as originally scheduled for next month.
“The two defendants may take a combined total of four to five days to present their cases. If that occurs, it is possible that at least parts of the defense cases would stretch into the week of Dec. 19,” Richardson wrote. “In that event, the trial would come close to concluding very near to Christmas. Requiring the jury to balance holiday preparations with jury service is too much of an unfair burden and could possibly result in a desire to reach a verdict too quickly.
“In addition, there are numerous witnesses who will be traveling to Franklin County from other parts of Florida,” he wrote. “Requiring them to travel just before Christmas would likewise create an unfair and undue burden on the witnesses.”
Neither Tallahassee criminal defense attorney Robert Morris, who represents Abell, nor Assistant State Attorney Jarred Patterson, who is prosecuting the case, objected to the continuance.
In rendering his decision Nov. 8, Sjostrom declined to order use of written juror questionnaires and instead to allow attorneys to question them individually and privately if, by a show of raised hand, they indicate they have prior information concerning the case.
“Counsel for the parties shall prepare a joint, written statement for the court to read to the jurors to describe the controversy at issue,” wrote Sjostrom, noting that this statement must be filed by the time date of the next pretrial conference, Feb. 14, 2023.
Both Araujo and Abell were initially charged with second-degree homicide for killing Seiden, a traveling companion. Within days of the discovery of the body, the two were picked up in South Florida by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, extradited to the Franklin County Jail and have been held without bond ever since.
In Sept. 2021, an 18-member grand jury stiffened the charges to first-degree murder, which carries with it possible imposition of the death penalty, although there is no indication that State Attorney Jack Campbell plans to pursue that option.