The Davie boat captain who alerted authorities of the whereabouts of the two people who were later charged with the murder of a South Florida woman at an Eastpoint motel nearly six years ago took the witness stand Tuesday.
Michael Picavet, called as a witness by Assistant State Attorney Jarred Patterson, said that Christina Araujo and Zachary Abell had shown up on his doorstep at about 9:30 p.m. on Monday, April 23, 2018 and told of how Aileen Seiden, 31, of North Miami Beach, their friend and traveling companion, had been left dead on the side of the road in the Panhandle.
Picavet, who had known all three over the course of the previous seven years, said he was in his hot tub when he heard a knock on the door.
“I said ‘where’s ah?” Picavet testified, referring to a nickname he gave Seiden because of her use of that exclamation.
“Christina said ‘she ran away,” he testified. “I said ‘Bulls**t, what happened?” Zach right away said ‘She’s dead.’”
He said Abell, who is charged with first degree murder for allegedly beating Seiden to death in Room #15 of the Sportsmans Lodge, moments later started sobbing, and asked for a hug. He then said his friend then told him that Araujo, 44, had killed Seiden.
“He said that he woke up and didn’t know what to do, that she was in the next bed and it was a mess,” he said. “He (Abell) wouldn’t answer any questions, he just said ‘I don’t know.”
Picavet said Araujo then went to sleep on his couch. “At that point I went out to where the hot tub was and Zach jumped in the hot tub,” he testified. “When Zach came back in he said ‘we have to do shots,” and did a couple shots of fireball whiskey. And then he went and passed out.”
Picavet later went to Araujo and told her that Abell had told him that she had killed Seiden. He said she grew wide-eyed but did not “freak out or anything. I saw the whites of her eyes, she looked like she was in shock.”
In the conversation that ensued, Araujo told Picavet that Seiden’s body was in a roadway with a cul-de-sac “halfway between US 98 and I-75. I searched on Google Earth and eventually I found it.”
He said Araujo told him she had “cleaned it all with vinegar” and left only a spot or two of blood in the room.” Araujo, who was originally charged with the same crimes as Abell but who has since pleaded guilty to second degree, is slated to take the stand Wednesday.
Picavet said throughout his first talk with the two about what happened, he tried to play devil’s advocate.
“What are you going to do, run to the Bahamas or Cuba? It’s not going to work out for you. I ran through scenarios showing them how stupid that would have been.
“I was trying to think ‘How the heck do I react to this?’” Picavet said. “I decided I got to talk to her father, who’s a cop. Mainly I wanted them taken in in a controlled way. Her father would make sure they were safe and the police could handle it from there.”
Picavet said that after the two of them were asleep on his couch, at about 1:30 a.m. he called the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, and pressed them to put him in touch with Col. Antonio Araujo, but they refused.
He said he began driving to Palm Beach and was able to find Araujo’s home number through a Google search.
Tony Araujo arranged to meet Picavet at a gas station, and told him that his daughter had killed somebody.
Araujo advised Picavet to meet him at his office, where Picavet was questioned in an unrecorded conversation by two detectives within the department, with the colonel; present.
Arrangements were made to have Picavet meet with agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in Miami, which he did following a brief nap on a boat that he maintained in Fort Lauderdale.
“They told me don’t go back to my house until things get figured out,” he said.
The FDLE agents showed him a picture of Seiden which he confirmed. “It was close enough, I knew it was her,” said Picavet.
He said he drove by his house clandestinely, but did not return. “I just crreped up enough so I could see,” Picavet said. “I eventually heard from them that they had them in custody.”
Picavet said he later recalled that he had a hidden camera in his kitchen that he thought had recorded Araujo speaking about the crime, and shared the contents with FDLE. Victoria Perras, a digital analyst with FDLE, testified Tuesday afternoon that she had been unable to recover any useful information.
In his questioning, Patterson noted the ongoing communication that Picavet has had with Abell, as well as his mother, Kim Clark, who is slated to be a witness Wednesday.
He also noted Picavet’s penchant for commenting on social media, as well as the apparent contradictions between what Picavet initially told FDLE and what he had said in his depositions as well as the trial testimony.
Outside of the earshot of the jury, Circuit Judge Frank Allman rebuked Picavet for his often elaborate answers and explanations.
“Don’t give a speech,” said Allman. “Your part is to answer the attorneys’ questions and not to add extraneous information or editorialize or add information you think should come out. Are we clear what your role is in the process?”
The 14-member jury, which includes two alternates, asked several questions of Picavet. The jury had been whittled down on the first two days of trial, Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 17 and 18 from the 115 who had reported for duty. They are equally split between men and women, and are roughly evenly scattered between Apalachicola, Eastpoint, Carrabelle, St. George Island, Lanark Village and St. James Bay.
The first witnesses in the trial included the Eastpoint couple that found Seiden’s battered body in a cul-de-sac at a vacant subdivision off U.S. 98, as well as the housekeeper who first came upon the disarray in Room #15.
“I noticed a missing shower curtain, curtain rod and towels,” said Maranda Kilbourn, of Apalachicola, who along with Amanda Hall were the two cleaners tasked with preparing the room for the next guests,
“Whenever I first walked in the room, there was a bunch of trash, nothing on the bed, and the comforter was on the floor wet. There was vomit on the floor and a spot of blood on the sliding glass doors and blood on the toilet paper roll,” Kilbourn said.
After Sportsman’s Lodge employee Hope Creamer advised Kilbourn to leave the room right away, and the sheriff’s office was called, lead investigator Ronnie Jones arrived and looked over the contents of the room.
Prior to Jones’ appearance, the jury heard the most graphic testimony of the trial, which included photos of Seiden’s bruised and lacerated body lying in the grass in a ditch not far from the paved road.
Amy George, a crime scene analyst from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, described how she arrived from Tallahassee to find the body of a deceased woman, whose identity was not yet known, a few feet away from the road.
Christopher and April Russell, of Eastpoint, who first discovered the body.said that after they went fishing on Monday morning, April 23, 2018 on St. George Island, they hadn’t caught anything and so went to a secluded spot near where April works at the Franklin County Schools.
Christopher said he had spotted something as he drove into the cul-de-sac. “I’m a bad junk collector,” he said. “I thought it was a junk pile, something that could have scrap metal, anything you can sell like aluminum, I was praying to find.”
Jones said regular contact with the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office led to them connecting the dots, and securing the room at Sportsman’s Lodge.
The jury later heard from Ivan Brenes, the FDLE crime scene analyst charged with cataloging the room, as well as from Diane Guzman, an FDLE expert in DNA analysis, Tracy Love, an FDLE fingerprint expert; as well as an expert in footprint analysis.
Defense attorney Alex Morris has made clear that Abell admits he had a hand in tampering with evidence and being an accessory after the fact by helping to dump Seiden’s body, but was not culpable in murdering her.
“Aileen Seiden suffered the wrath of Christina Araujo, of Christina Araujo scorned,” he told jurors. “Mr. Abell had started an exclusive relationship with Aileen Seiden, and (Araujo) made threats that she’s going to give them what they have coming to them. And she did and she pled guilty.
“At the end of the day the evidence will show that Christina Araujo is a stranger to the truth and the state can’t meet their burden of proof,” he said.