GAINESVILLE — Taking the stand in his murder trial on Thursday, Pedro Bravo said University of Florida student Christian Aguilar was still alive the last time he saw him.
Bravo took the stand shortly after the prosecution rested its case against him. He faces murder, kidnapping and other charges related to the slaying of Aguilar, 18, in September 2012.
At times smiling and looking at jurors while he described his own disturbing suicidal thoughts, the 20-year-old from Miami-Dade County said he was "breaking apart piece by piece" when he and Aguilar got together to talk about Bravo's depression.
Prosecutors have painted a picture of Bravo as a jealous ex-boyfriend who followed his ex, Erika Friman, to Gainesville to win her back, only to find she was dating Aguilar.
Bravo said he came to Gainesville seeking a fresh start.
"I wanted to go to Gainesville … maybe a fresh start would help me erase everything in my slate," he said. "And at the same time I wanted to see if I could get back together with Erika."
After learning that Friman and Aguilar, both of whom he had attended high school with in Miami, were dating, Bravo requested a meeting with Aguilar to talk it out. He said Aguilar had problems too, and that he could relate to Bravo's problems.
Aguilar's remains were found weeks after the men's talk, in a shallow grave in a wooded area.
"I'm suicidal," Bravo said about why he wanted to talk to his friend, Aguilar. "It's not because of Erika, but all these other things that are adding up."
Bravo and Aguilar went to a fast-food restaurant and an electronics store before stopping for about two hours in a Wamart lot.
Prosecutors say that's where Bravo used a strap to strangle Aguilar — Bravo said they got into a heated exchanges.
He said he hit Aguilar as they drove out of the lot.
"I turned around and hit him in the nose with my left fist." Bravo said that injury accounted for Aguilar's blood found in his car.
Bravo later spilled black paint over the blood stains, prosecutors said.
Bravo said the fight in the vehicle then escalated and caused him to pull over again. He said Aguilar got out of the car in the rain and approached him.
"I swept him off his feet," Bravo said. He said he fell on top of Aguilar and hit him in the face repeatedly. "He didn't get up right away, but he was still moving."
Bravo said he left Aguilar there on the ground, taking his book bag and cellphone with him, and never saw him again.
Under cross-examination, prosecutor Brian Kramer asked why Bravo hid Aguilar's book bag in his closet, even after he'd spoken to police about his friend's disappearance. Bravo said he was worried his parents, who live in Miami, would find it.
Bravo said he got upset about the fight later that night, and decided to kill himself. He said he drank Gatorade mixed with sleeping pills and pesticide in an effort to kill himself.
That Gatorade bottle with drug residue was found in his car, and prosecutors have suggested he used it to drug Aguilar before strangling him.
Bravo said the concoction made him vomit.
"I took it as a sign from God that maybe it's not supposed to happen this way," he said.