Woman pleads guilty to role in soldier’s death
AUSTIN, Texas – In what may be the only justice rendered in the killing of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a woman, pleaded guilty to lesser charges for her involvement in the aftermath of the Fort Hood soldier’s death.
Cecily Aguilar, 24, is Spc’s former girlfriend. Aaron Robinson, the man Army investigators believe bludgeoned Guillen to death on the post in April 2020. Authorities believe the pair worked together to dismember and dispose of Guillen’s body near the Leon River in the Bell County shortly after his death.
Aguilar, who was a civilian from Killeen, Texas, employed at a local gas station before her arrest, was linked to the crime on July 1, 2020, the day after Guillen’s remains were discovered. That same day, according to Killeen police, Robinson shot and killed himself as authorities sought to question him.
Aguilar was charged in July 2020 with three counts of conspiracy to tamper with evidence. She first pleaded not guilty on July 14, 2020, but was set to do so again after a series of attempts by her defense team to have her confession suppressed.
On Tuesday, she pleaded guilty to one count of accessory after the fact and three counts of misrepresentation. Aguilar now faces a maximum combined prison term of 30 years.
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Aguilar’s trial was due to begin next year in January, but his case will now go straight to sentencing, according to Natalie Khawam, the Guillen family lawyer.
“Cecily Aguilar’s guilty plea today was another step on the long road to justice for Vanessa, my client, and her brave family,” Khawam said. “I will never stop fighting for my clients and will continue to seek and demand justice for the victims and their families until it is served.”
What happened to Vanessa Guillen?
As of April 2020, Vanessa Guillen is from the Houston area and serving at Fort Hood, one of the nation’s largest military training grounds.
At the time, Fort Hood was proudly wrapped up in its decades-long reputation for preparing troops for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Army had nicknamed Central Texas “The Great Place” for the quality of life it offered those stationed there.
But Vanessa’s initial disappearance on April 22, 2020 set off a chain of events that would not only lead to greater public scrutiny of the military, but also galvanize a movement for reform.
Mayra Guillen was the first to report her sister missing after her text messages to Vanessa went unanswered. She didn’t know yet that Vanessa had been killed that day.
With little to no information about Vanessa’s whereabouts from the military, Mayra and her family demonstrated outside Fort Hood over the next few weeks as they called for congressional intervention in what they believed to be a complete failure of the station management to find Vanessa.
During one of the protests, Vanessa’s mother revealed that her daughter confided in her that several soldiers sexually harassed her at Fort Hood.
The Guillen family’s protests sparked a viral social media hashtag, #IAmVanessaGuillen, which hundreds of service members have used online to share their own experiences of sexual assault and harassment in the military.
#IAMVANESSAGUILLEN:Vanessa Guillen was sexually harassed, Army report confirms, detailing how her superior targeted her
Many stories were similar, often saying the military did little or nothing to investigate, charge, and prosecute offenders. In numerous social media posts, soldiers said they never reported their experiences because they feared reprisals.
Army officials in the months immediately following the discovery of Guillen’s body had argued that there was no evidence to support claims that she had been sexually harassed on the job.
It wasn’t until more than a year after Vanessa’s death that the military publicly confirmed that she had been sexually harassed and retaliated at Fort Hood by a superior.
But public scrutiny of the investigation into his murder led to revelations at Fort Hood that exposed a hidden culture of violence and misconduct among soldiers, particularly sexual assault and sexual harassment.
The #IAmVanessaGuillen movement has caught the attention of lawmakers in Washington. Elements of an I Am Vanessa Guillen bill initially did not pass Congress as a stand-alone bill. But his key reforms were eventually included in the National Defense Authorization Act signed into law by President Joe Biden.