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Former student recants sex allegations against victim Vincent Pravata, pleads guilty to his murder

BY DAVID OVALLE, DOVALLE@MIAMIHERALD.COM

A former college student who fatally stabbed a South Miami man was found guilty of murder Wednesday — but not before recanting allegations that the victim tried to sexually assault him.

James Arauz took a plea deal and will get a 17-year prison term for the October 2009 slaying of Vincent Pravata, 63. He will be sentenced on July 17.

The deal comes less than two months after a Miami-Dade judge rejected Arauz’s claim that Pravata made unwanted sexual advances that spurred him to stab in self-defense. Arauz, 23, pleaded no contest and a judge found him guilty.

On Wednesday in court, Arauz admitted the allegations were not true.

Said Vincent Tom, Pravata’s friend and business partner: “He was a man of integrity and good judgment. He had a masters degree in psychology and he clearly understood boundaries, and that’s something he clearly would not cross.”

Pravata, 63, was an openly gay interior designer who, along with Tom, ran Crimson Gate, a company that imported antiques from China. He was known for his sharp tongue and gentle nature, family members recalled.

A nephew, Bill Janovitz, 46, remembers his uncle encouraging him to pursue a career in music. Janovitz did — as the guitarist for Buffalo Tom, an alternative rock band that toured worldwide in the 1990s.

“He told me, ‘Don’t ever work in an office. You did an awful job. Do what you love,’” Janovitz recalled.

Arauz, a former engineering student at Miami-Dade College, was the son of Pravata’s longtime housekeeper. The older man served as a mentor to the youth and had penned a letter of letter of recommendation.

After his arrest, Arauz sought immunity by claiming self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. At a November hearing, he said he went to Pravata’s home to pick up the letter, but claimed Pravata demanded sexual favors.

Arauz said he rejected Pravata’s advances, but the man “went into a rage and tried to pin me against a wall,” he testified. The young man said he grabbed a decorative knife from a cabinet and stabbed Pravata 18 times when the man tried to prevent him from leaving.

But Judge Yvonne Colodny, in denying his bid in March, pointed out that Arauz meticulously cleaned up the crime scene, stole the man’s credit card and went on a shopping spree seemingly to impress a girlfriend.

And Arauz never called police and later lied to detectives and others about what happened, the judge said.

“He not only took the life of great man, but ruined his own,” nephew Janovitz said. “ I only hope that the time he serves in prison makes him a better, not a worse person.”

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