In a case that brought sexual assault in the military to the public’s notice, Cecily Aguilar, 24, admitted to being an accessory to murder after the fact and was the inspiration for both a federal statute and a Netflix documentary.
The sole defendant in Vanessa Guillen’s 2020 murder at Fort Hood, Texas, entered a guilty plea to four counts, including accessory to murder after the fact, on Tuesday.
According to the prosecution, Cecily Aguilar, 24, could be sentenced to a maximum of 30 years in jail, three years of supervised release, and a $1 million fine. Additionally, she admitted guilt on three charges of making a false statement or representation.
The 20-year-old Specialist Guillen was last seen on April 22, 2020, at Fort Hood, the third-largest Army base in the country. According to the prosecution, another soldier, Specialist Aaron Robinson, killed her and hid her body in a huge box after repeatedly hitting her on the skull with a hammer.
Despite being imprisoned, Specialist Robinson escaped and shot himself in the head in July 2020, only days before charges were filed.
Numerous people, including politicians, Latinos, women in the military, and celebrities expressed outrage over Specialist Guillen’s case.
A Fort Hood climate that was “permissive of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” including the harassment of Specialist Guillen, was discovered by an Army review to have “serious deficiencies.” 14 officials, including high-ranking ones, were sacked or suspended as a result of this.
The only person charged in the 2020 killing of Vanessa Guillen, a soldier at Fort Hood in Texas, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to four counts including accessory to murder after the fact. https://t.co/URc5ftiJ4Y
— The New York Times (@nytimes) November 30, 2022
On November 17, the Netflix documentary “I Am Vanessa Guillen,” which chronicles her family’s fight for justice, was released, reviving interest in the case. Sexual harassment claims involving military members must be reported to an impartial investigator, according to a federal statute with the same name that went into effect on January 1.
Officials from the Justice Department claimed that Ms. Aguilar, Specialist Robinson’s girlfriend, had been informed of the murder and that the two had attempted to dismember and burn the body parts.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas said that between April 22, 2020, and July 1, 2020, Ms. Aguilar worked with Specialist Robinson to “corruptly alter, destroy, mutilate and conceal evidence” in order to shield him from prosecution.
According to the statement, she also deleted and changed data in a Google account belonging to Specialist Robinson.
According to authorities, Ms. Aguilar initially misled investigators about what she knew but eventually admitted to taking part in the body’s disposal.
The statement added that Aguilar “made four materially false statements to federal agents during the inquiry into the disappearance of Vanessa Guillen.”
The Western District of Texas Federal Public Defender’s Office, which is Ms. Aguilar’s attorney, declined to comment.
According to Michael Lahrman, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, no sentencing date has been established. Ms. Aguilar had been due to go on trial in January until she entered her plea.
Ms. Aguilar, a layperson, was accused of 11 offenses. She had previously pled not guilty to all charges, so Tuesday’s plea was unexpected, according to Natalie Khawam, the Guillens’ attorney.
She stated, “Today’s admission of guilt provides us with some peace. We were just waiting for the day where she would finally confess and apologize to her crime, and the pain that she caused to this family.
Without charging the family, Ms. Khawam took over Specialist Guillen’s case in 2020 with the goal of locating her. After her remains were discovered, attention turned to bringing those responsible for her killing to justice and preventing similar tragedies in the future.
The family of Specialist Guillen will testify before the judge during Ms. Aguilar’s sentencing. According to her sister Mayra Guillen, the process of grieving the loss has been prolonged by court appearances and ongoing campaigning.
She stated, “I feel a little better knowing that she’s acknowledging what she did and that she won’t keep fighting us, but it’s definitely not a closed case until the day of sentencing.”
Following Ms. Aguilar’s punishment, the family’s activism will continue to center on Specialist Guillen’s own harassment as well as other Army personnel who have faced sexual harassment.
Her mother, Gloria Guillen, stated, “I only pray God for true justice because she’s not the only one accountable.” I’m sure there are more, and I pray to God the truth will be revealed.