Cecily Aguilar-the girlfriend of the deceased man accused of murdering U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén-pled guilty to being involved in the coverup of Guillén's death in federal court on Tuesday, ending a nearly three-year saga that spotlighted sexual harassment and assault in the military. Aguilar had faced an 11-count federal indictment charging that she "did unlawfully and knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with another person to corruptly alter, destroy, mutilate and conceal any record, document and other object, to wit: the body of V.G., and did attempt to do so, with the intent to impair its integrity and availability for use in an official proceeding."
Aguilar, 24, pled guilty to four lesser charges-one count of accessory after the fact and three counts of making a false statement-and waived her right to a jury trial on Tuesday, according to the Houston Chronicle. She faces up to 30 years imprisonment, a $1 million fine, and up to 12 years of supervised release after she leaves prison. The Justice Department said in a news release that a sentencing date has yet to be put on the calendar.
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Guillén initially was reported missing from Fort Hood, a military installation in central Texas, in April 2020. Her family told media that Guillén had told them that one of her sergeants at the installation was sexually harassing her, but she chose not to report it because she thought she could stop it. Guillén's remains were found in June 2020 next to a nearby river about 30 miles from Fort Hood.
Aguilar was dating Spc. Aaron David Robinson-the soldier who was the last person to see Guillén alive in June 2020 and the only suspect in her death. (It's not known whether Robinson was the sergeant that Guillén had spoken to her family about.) Robinson was accused of bludgeoning Guillén to death with a hammer inside one of the base's armories and transporting her body for disposal. Witnesses told investigators that they saw Robinson struggling to move a large box into his car on the day Guillén was last seen.
Aguilar, who was still married to another soldier at Fort Hood, was accused of helping Robinson burn, dismember, and bury Guillén's body, according to the federal complaint. By disposing of Guillén's body, the pair were accused of tampering with evidence of a crime. The Justice Department said that Aguilar had also "altered and destroyed information" in Robinson's Google account and "made four materially false statements" to investigators. Robinson died by suicide when police confronted him on July 1, 2020. Aguilar was arrested on July 1, 2020. Guillén's remains were found the day before.
Guillén's sister, Mayra Guillén, said Aguilar has "no remorse" for her role in the soldier's death on Tuesday. "I feel so sick every time I see her face to face. Sick to my stomach. Anxiety. Anger & Frustration," she tweeted. "I can't put my words together… I hope she gets what she deserves. For her to have the nerve to smile at her defense etc. She has no remorse."
"So many motions that she's filed in the past, for her to come and plead guilty now, it takes us completely by surprise," Mayra told media outside the federal courthouse in Waco, Texas.
The roughly three-month search for Guillén spawned a nationwide movement to draw attention to her case and the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault in the U.S. military. Fourteen leaders at Fort Hood were fired or suspended in December 2020, following a scathing report of the installation's practices on handling sexual harassment and assault.
Family, friends, and supporters of Guillen rally on the National Mall to call for justice and for Congress to investigate her death on July 30, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Parts of a new law named after Guillén, which was signed into law in January, have revamped how the military investigates sexual assaults, including the long-time demand from reformers that prosecution decisions be removed from the chain of command. In January, President Biden signed an executive order that established sexual harassment as a charged offense in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He said it would "strengthen" military response to the crimes.
Despite the new reforms, there was a 13 percent increase in reported cases of sexual assault across the entire U.S. military in 2021. And a 26-percent increase was reported involving Army soldiers-the Army's largest increase since 2013. While Guillén's case is coming to a close, it's clear there is much more work to do.
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