Zachary Abell, left, awaits his sentence, along with his defense attorney Alex Morris. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]
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Abell to spend life in prison for Seiden murder

Almost exactly six years since the evening he pummeled to death a woman he claimed he asked to marry him just weeks earlier, Zachary Abell will spend the rest of his life in a state prison for the crime.

Dressed in the county jail’s orange jumpsuit, a sharp contrast to the three-piece suit he wore in the courtroom when he was found guilty of second degree murder in January, Abell, 36, of North Miami Beach, sat stoically late Wednesday afternoon, April 10, as he heard Circuit Judge Frank Allman hand down the harshest possible sentence for the crime of bludgeoning to death 31-year-old Aileen Seiden in a room where they, along with a third traveling companion, Christina Araujo, 44, of Palm Beach, were staying at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Eastpoint.

Araujo in May 2023 pleaded guilty to a similar charge of second-degree murder for having taken part in the beating and for assisting Abell in dumping the body at a cul-de-sac just east of the high school before the two drove back to South Florida, where they were later apprehended and extradited back to Franklin County.

She testified against Abell at his trial and in June will be sentenced by Allman’s predecessor Circuit Judge Jonathan Sjostrom, who was on the bench in Apalachicola when he accepted Araujo’s plea deal.

Circuit Judge Frank Allman prepares to deliver the verdict. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]

In accepting Assistant State Attorney Jarred Patterson’s recommendation for life, Allman echoed the prosecutors description of the massive injuries Seiden sustained in the beating, and the fact that the defendants had dumped her body, perhaps with a breath of life still left in it, on the side of the road. He also said the scoresheet that was prepared prior to sentencing was insufficient in addressing the crime’s heinous nature.

For the first time since the crime occurred April 23, 2018, Abell spoke publicly in court about the case, and expressed remorse.

“I have been going over all this for a very long time,” he said, following the testimony on Seiden’s behalf by her older sister Franceasca, who appeared by Zoom from her home in California, as well as the testimony of three women from  South Florida, one of whom appeared in court, on Abell’s behalf.

“Everything I’ve said before has been misconstrued and there’s some things I’d like to make right,” Abell said. “Today isn’t about me; today is about closure for Aileen and for Aileen’s family. Me and Aileen had been together for a few years before all this transpired and Aileen never had no issues within the five months that Miss Araujo got involved in our relationship because somebody took it upon themselves to basically out our situation. That’s when things got bad.

He told of how he and Seiden, who had known each other years earlier in high school at a Miami private school, had traveled to Los Angeles to visit Franceasca. “We traveled all over together, just having fun,” Abell said.

Abell’s mother, Kim Clark, had been set to testify June 24 at her son’s trial, but passed away the day before inside of the room at Apalachicola’s Best Western motel as she awaited her court appearance.

“My mother was going to testify what actually transpired that day when Aileen and I left Miami after she had gotten into a confrontation with Christina,” Abell said. “Aileeen told me to get in the car and we left with only the clothes on our back. She left without her cell phone.”

In the trial, Assistant State Attorney Jarred Patterson had outlined a scenario in which the couple had left hurriedly from the house they shared with Araujo and Clark, and drove together as far west as Dallas, Texas, where they stayed with a mutual friend Dustin Dinklelacker. 

After threatening to call the police for their having “stolen” a car that was in her name, Araujo flew to Dallas and then drove back east with Abell and Seiden, stopping for a few days in New Orleans and Pensacola, and then ultimately in Eastpoint.

He said Araujo and others had telephoned them repeatedly after they drove away from Miami

“My cell phone kept ringing, it sounded like a slot machine, with text messages from every which way,” Abell said. “To be honest I never read none of them, I never took the time to look at them.”

He said he and Seiden at one point on their trip west had stopped at a restaurant in Alabama. “She never had crawfish and she wanted to try them,” Abell said. 

Following the meal, he said he decided to pop the question. “I grabbed a ring pop and proposed to her with a ring pop and asked her to marry me. She said yes,” Abell said, his voice cracking. 

Seiden and Abell had spent “every waking moment” together and that he spoke several times with Franceasca, “not manipulative, honest.

“I am sorry for everything that has transpired and I take full responsibility for my actions,” he told the court. “Nothing’s going to change that and anything Franceasca has to ask me I have no problem telling her.

“But from the beginning of this, things have been taken out of context and I will not allow anything else to be taken out of context because the facts were not there,” Abell said. “There’s things that happened that I have to live with for the rest of my life and I have nightmares.

“I hear things that Christina said over and over again in my head, it plays out, it is a prison,” he said. “There’s no excuse because I was a coward and I was weak, that’s what I was, because I did ask Aileen to marry and she said yes and we were trying to have a child together.

“We thought it would be cool that we had a kid (along) with her friend Alyssum and they’d grow up together,” Abell said. “And we’d go back down to South Florida, separate our things and go on, we’d go our way and leave Christina out of it. And the only reason why that came to fruition is because Aileen told me to go forward (with) what we’re doing, (and said) you need to tell Christina the truth.

“I did that in Texas with Dustin sitting right there,” he said. “I’m so sorry I lost everybody that I love, Franceasca lost who she loved and I’m not making any excuses but I’m so sorry.

“I’ve waited this long to do this because everything else didn’t really matter. This matters,” Abell said in closing. “What’s going to happen today is what’s going to happen. Franceasca deserves closure, Aileen deserves justice and I am sorry. I’m sorry.”

In her remarks, Franceasca described a baby sister “who was a beautiful young woman with an incredible life ahead of her.” Eight years younger than Franceasca, Aileen was just 14 when their father died, five years after his wife and the girl’s mother had died from cancer.

Franceasca described helping to raise Aileen, including taking her to school each day before she was old enough to drive. She told of how she met Abell, and “had been manipulated to believe my sister was in good hands.”

That all changed when she began receiving pictures of Aileen with black eyes and bruises, and came to a terrifying climax during the threesome’s visit to New Orleans, when Franceasca received a call  from Aileen that she was frightened and told her older sister “I think they’re going to kill me.”

“Because of the little information that was given to me at the time, I didn’t yet understand the dire seriousness of why my sister was trapped,” she said. “I hope they never see the light of day again and their remaining  years on this earth are in prison.”

The judge also heard testimony on Abell’s behalf via Zoom from Michael Picavet, who testified at trial as a prosecution witness, as well as two friends of the Abell family, Debra Santana and Eva Ramos. Their words were mostly attesting to Abell’s honest character and to the fact that he had spiraled downhill after the death of his father.

Vicky Trent, also a family friend, drove here from Ocala, and testified in court on Abell’s behalf. She mostly directed her words to Franceasca, and urged her to enable forgiveness to bring peace to her suffering, just as it had Trent, who said she had been devastated by the death of her son from a drug overdose. She said she was for years consumed by anger and hatred for the friends who had been part of securing drugs for her son.

Vicky Trent offered a tearful testimony about the need for healing, drawing on her loss of a son to a drug overdose. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]

Prior to the hearing, Abell’s lawyer Alex Morris had managed to get a second felony conviction, for being an accessory after the fact, dismissed by Allman. Morris argued that a defendant cannot be convicted of a crime as well as for being an accessory to that crime, while Patterson contended that the murder, and the actions that came after that, should be considered as separate crimes.

A third charge, battery on an inmate, stemming from an incident that happened at the county jail, was dropped.

Allman said Abell’s five-year sentence for tampering with evidence would run concurrent with the life sentence. He was given credit for 2,190 days in county jail, which was exactly six years.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor


  1. I like this news report better than most of your other reports on this story …(Debbie…Kim’s friend..we were in court together)

  2. Such an injustice. The court system needs to be fixed. This poor guy was trying to run away with the victim and Christina got into roid rage, drugged the two of them, and did what she did BY HERSELF! She is a beast and a lot of people saw how she was beating Aileen every other day for 3 months prior. For people to be stupid enough to believe anything she said on the stand after changing her story 6 times!!! Crazy!
    I can’t wait to tell the full story to 48 hours! One thing about Zach, I’m proud of how he calls it the way it is! That beast scared him and wouldn’t let him call 911 from the motel room! That was supposed to come out when the defense examined me for the defense but it never happened… so many issues with this poor guy being railroaded!

    1. Don’t forget to tell them how she killed a homeless man, years before killing Eileen and got away with it.

  3. I love and miss Eileen. I am so very sorry to her sister and family. I miss my friend Kim too. So many horrible tragedies in Eileen and Zacs lives. I’ve known Zac since he was in middle school and when I met Eileen I really felt they would be able to rescue each others hearts….
    Christina deserves the death penalty. I sure hope her daddy is proud of the monster he created and enabled.

    1. Yes Joyce, it would have been very interesting to see where Aileen and Zach’s relationship woulda gone…in most cases, 2 broken people aren’t good for a relationship though…
      As for Christina, the way she said that she was flying out to ruin Aileen’s and Zach’s lives, the States Attorney should have stuck with murder 1 and went for the death penalty. I’d be willing to bet two things, first is that she will get less than 20 years and the next is that my security camera and SD card will mysteriously go missing again if they haven’t already! The fix is in! How else would a professional crime lab tape over the proof of the critical conversation that occurred in my kitchen that night? Somebody’s getting paid somewhere! Can’t wait to see what June’s sentencing brings!!

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