After deliberating for about five hours, a Franklin County jury found Zachary Abell guilty of second degree murder this afternoon in the brutal beating death of Aileen Seiden nearly six years ago at an Eastpoint motel.
This means that Abell has now been convicted of the same crime to which his accomplice, Christina Aruajo, pleaded guilty to in May 2023. Second degree murder can result in imprisonment from 20 years up to life.
In reaching their verdict, the jury rejected a finding of first-degree murder, which would have had all 12 of them agreeing that Abell acted with premeditation.
The jury also found that Abell had tampered with evidence when he and Araujo dumped Seiden’s body in a ditch near a cul-de-sac just east of the Franklin County School.
The jury also found Abell guilty of being an accessory after the fact, meaning that he has assisted Araujo in committing the murder. But there are legal questions remaining whether an individual convicted of a crime can also be convicted of aiding someone in that same crime.
In the 27 pages of juror instructions that Circuit Judge Frank Allman presented to the jury first thing this morning, it was noted that Kim Clark, who the defense had called as a witness, had been unable to appear due to “circumstances beyond anyone’s control.”
The jury was not told that Clark, who is Abell’s mother, had died sometime Tuesday in her room at the Best Western Apalach Inn sometime as she waited to testify.
Clark had traveled up from South Florida with her friend, Debra Chestnut Jadosingh, who was in the courtroom each day of the trial, which began Wednesday, Jan. 17.
As a witness, Clark was neither allowed to attend the trial, and not to visit her son.
Jadosingh said she returned from court Wednesday to find her lifelong friend dead in the hotel room. She said that Clark had not been in good health in recent months.