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Trial begins for 2008 murder, rape
Rabon Travis Santell MUG
Travis Rabon

*Editor’s Note: This article contains descriptions of violent and disturbing acts.

The trial of a Conyers man for the brutal rape and murder of a 21-year-old woman and rape and attempted murder of her friend in 2008 began Tuesday in Rockdale County Superior Court.

Superior Court Judge David Irwin began hearing the case of Travis Santell Rabon, 23, for charges including malice murder felony murder, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping, aggravated sodomy and aggravated battery.

Rockdale County District Attorney Richard Read took the courtroom floor first. In his opening statement, he described a brutal tale of how Rabon was allegedly looking for sex and took it from Keira Rochell Avant, who was murdered, and another woman.

Read described how the victim’s father Keith Avant, a respiratory therapist, sat by his daughter's bedside at Rockdale Medical Center and watched as her brain-dead body was kept alive only with the help of machines. He then ordered for the machines to be turned off, as his 21-year old daughter expired at 9:59 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2008.

Keira Avant had arrived at Rabon's apartment at the St. James Apartments two days earlier, on Dec. 29, to borrow money.

Read described how Rabon had said, in his testimony that he had sexual intentions when he invited the girl over to his residence.

After arriving at Rabon's residence with three other friends, Keira Avant went up to his apartment to get the money, meeting him outside his apartment as he was walking his dog. As he was walking by, one of her friends noticed Rabon had a gun, but Avant continued into his apartment. He reportedly told her he didn't have the money but that a friend would be coming by later with the money. While the girls were leaving, Avant's friend found out she had the day off from work and the group decided to stay and pursue the money. Avant went back into Rabon's apartment. Avant's friend, who was waiting in the car with the other two girls, checked on her twice. After the second time, she did not come down for an hour and the other two friends grew suspicious.

Read said when Avant's friend went to check on her, Rabon pulled a gun and ordered "take off your clothes b____." As she ran he allegedly grabbed her; a fight ensued and hit her in the back of the head with a pistol. Read said there would later be testimony about blood on the walls and on the woman.

Rabon then allegedly brought her into the bathroom and forced sexual acts. She was also forced into his bedroom where there was a pornographic movie on, an unused condom on the bed and Keira Avant lying on the floor unconscious with bruising and a rope around her neck.

Read went on to describe how a person gets brain damage after a certain amount of time, and that is what caused Keira Avant to perish.

Rockdale County Sheriff's deputies arrived and were let into the apartment by Rabon after three rounds of knocking on the door. They discovered Avant's friend running toward them with a bloody bandage around her head.

Defense Attorney Michael Waldrop began his opening statement by asking why Keira Avant had died that night.

Waldrop said the trial would show RCSO deputies made a costly error by failing to discover the critically injured Avant for 15 minutes, letting a critical window of treatment time slip away. This error, said Waldrop, would make it important for the deputies to pin the death on his client.

He said the deputies had driven over at priority 2 speed, with no lights on. "Someone reasonably fit could have jogged from the Sheriff's Department before the deputies got there," Waldrop said.

Once the deputies did arrive he said he would try and show the jury that they didn't sweep the area, even though the call came out that there were two females in the apartment. He even told the jury the deputy that discovered Keira Avant, exclaimed "Oh s___."

Waldrop went on to say that there was no proof that the girls were raped and not just involved in a kinky act involving the rope. He told the jury that Rabon told investigators that the biggest mistake he's ever made in his life was "agreeing to have sex with those two girls."

After opening statements, the first witness to take the stand was Keith Avant.

Keith Avant told the jury the condition he saw his daughter in and knew from his work experience that she was brain dead.

"My mom, two sisters, brother and myself, we all prayed," said Keith Avant of what he did as his daughter passed on.

One of the deputies who arrived at the scene, Kelly Pugh, was next on the stand.

"Don't procedures require you to clear the apartment?" Waldrop asked. "You would agree that you and Deputy Williams failure to clear the apartment is not in compliance with the training you received and not in compliance with the Rockdale County Sheriff's Department Procedures?"

Pugh answered, "That is correct."

Next on the stand was next-door neighbor to the crime scene who told Read how he heard screams from the next apartment. He said he heard a woman yelling, "Why are you doing this to me? I want to go home. I have a 3-year-old."

He also said the male's voice sounded "calm."

Jennifer Davis with Emergency Medical Services took the stand next describing the scene she saw upon arrival. She told Read and the jury that she saw blood all over a bandage on Simmons' head and all over the walls. She then sent the "confused" Simmons with her partner and went into the apartment to see how she got hurt, seeing a bloody barbell on the floor.

While inside, Davis said she was called into the bedroom where she discovered Keira Avant's body. After taking a picture with a cell phone to preserve the scene, she removed the rope, which was presented to the jury as evidence, and began CPR. After not detecting a pulse she hooked her up to a heart-rate machine and found that there was still blood pumping into her heart and used the defibrillator and medicine to get it going again.

Waldrop then grilled Davis about the time it took to get to Keira Avant and why the room wasn't secured earlier.

"She should have been found first," Davis said.

"That was a screw up," said Waldrop.

"Not on my part," Davis replied.

"On somebody's," Waldrop said.

"On somebody's," said Davis.

Deputy Calvin Williams was the last witness of the day.

"A female came running at me and I placed the male in handcuffs," Williams testified. "I didn't know what we had. She had a bloody rag on her head, saying he made me do it."

Waldrop again checked the time frame of their arrival and asked why they didn't secure the scene more quickly.

The trial will continue Wednesday at 9 a.m.