John M. Avent’s own words might have persuaded an Erie County Court jury on Friday to find him guilty of murdering his girlfriend, Roberta A. Rybinski.
Avent, 50, didn’t take the witness stand during his weeklong trial, but jurors heard his voice as prosecutor Gary W. Hackbush played a recording of Avent's jailhouse phone call to a relative.
An anguished Avent can be heard saying, “What did I do, man? I threw my life away, and for what?”
“Based on that admission alone, you can start your deliberations now,” Hackbush told the jurors during his closing argument.
Over five days of testimony, family members and other witnesses described the contentious relationship between Avent and Rybinski for more than a year. Rybinski was bipolar and lived on disability and proceeds from two accident settlements. She and Avent often argued, and her family urged her to not to see him.
About a year before she was killed, Rybinski obtained and order of protection to keep Avent away. However, by March 2016, he once again was sharing an apartment with her, an apartment that, significantly, had only one key.
Witnesses reported seeing the couple together in a bar the afternoon of March 3, 2016. Bickering turned into arguing, which culminated in Rybinski slapping Avent across the face.
Before he could retaliate, bar employees told him to leave, and he did.
Rybinski, who stayed behind, stopped to get more drinks at a convenience store on the way home. Neighbors later reported hearing arguing in her apartment.
Then no one heard anything from Roberta Rybinski for four days. People became worried. Her sister testified that Roberta usually texted or called her four or five times a day. After the silence continued through the weekend, police were called and Rybinski’s body was discovered on her couch on March 8, 2016. She showed signs of having been in a fight and there were two deep stab wounds in her neck.
Avent, 50, was interviewed by police a short time later. He claimed Rybinski had thrown him out the night of March 3, but when she did she also told him he could take her car, since she was "going to go to California" for a couple of weeks.
Prosecutors would prove that Rybinski had no plans to go to California.
Avent also suggested that perhaps someone who Rybinski owed money to had broken in and killed her. But Rybinski’s money was still in her purse, the apartment was not ransacked and the only door was locked.
When Avent was picked up, he had the only key to the apartment. He also had with him the only items missing from Rybinski’s purse -- her benefits card and debit card. Avent also admitted he had taken Rybinski’s TV and pawned it two days after she was last seen alive. He was shown on surveillance video and a pawn shop clerk verified it. He told police no one was home when he took the television.
Hackbush also reminded the jury that only Rybinski's and Avent's DNA was found in the apartment and on the woman’s body, which was still dressed in the clothes she was seen wearing on March 3.
Defense attorney Andrew LoTempio asked the jury to keep in mind: No one actually saw the murder being committed and he called the evidence circumstantial.
But it was enough for the jury.
After the verdict, Rybinski's family members hugged one another, and embraced and shook hands with Hackbush and Assistant District Attorney Matthew S. Szalkowski, who assisted in the prosecution.
Judge Kenneth F. Case scheduled sentencing for April 21. Avent faces a possible maximum prison term of 25 years to life.