Spc. Vanessa Guillén's remains were found near Fort Hood in July 2020. Photos courtesy of Fort Hood Press Center/US Army.
When Cecily Aguilar first sat down with investigators in the disappearance of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, she prefaced her statement by saying, “I’m ready to get this shit over with.”
Now, after more than two years of hearings and protests and motions, it finally is. Cecily Aguilar entered a guilty plea on Tuesday, Nov. 29, in federal court in Waco, Texas, admitting to her culpability as an accessory to Guillén’s murder in four separate charges.
Guillén’s family was shocked by Aguilar’s sudden plea. “We felt relief that she actually pleaded guilty,” sister Mayra Guillén told Coffee or Die Magazine. “She kept fighting with motions the whole time previous to this.”
Aguilar’s trial had been set for Jan. 23 of next year, and the Guillén family said they fully expected her to battle the charges to the end. Instead, she now faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine for one count of accessory to murder after the fact and three counts of false statement or representation, according to a release from the Department of Justice.
Congressional Delegation Visits Fort Hood (1200x800, AR: 1.50)
The sun rises at the Vanessa Guillén gate at Fort Hood, May 5, 2021. US Army photo by Sgt. Evan Ruchotzke.
“For my parents, they're glad that they don't have to go through the whole stressful feeling of going to trial and fighting back and forth,” Mayra Guillén said. “It’s still upsetting because we don't believe that it's enough time due to the crime that was committed.”
But multiple members of the Guillén family intend to testify at Aguilar’s sentencing hearing. “I truly believe that the judge will be compassionate and believe when we say she deserves harsher punishment,” she said.
The murder of Guillén, who at the time of her death was a private first class assigned to the Army’s 3rd Cavalry Regiment, sparked a conversation about sexual harassment and assault in the military that ended or disrupted the careers of multiple officers and NCOs at Fort Hood and sparked military-wide changes in how military sex crimes are prosecuted.
Guillén disappeared on April 22, 2020. She was last seen leaving the Regimental Engineer Squadron Headquarters at Fort Hood. A search ensued for the 20-year-old small-arms repairer, with soldiers and Texas Rangers scouring the base and nearby areas. Meanwhile, the Army Criminal Investigation Division narrowed its list of suspects to one man, Spc. Aaron David Robinson, who had been alone with Guillén in the base armory that evening.
Vanessa Guillen's mother, Gloria, holding her daughter's Army photo. Photo courtesy of the Find Vanessa Guillen Facebook page.
Robinson claimed innocence when first questioned by investigators and used Aguilar, his girlfriend, as his alibi. The investigation stalled until June 30, when Aguilar told investigators she had helped Robinson try to cover up the murder of the soldier.
Aguilar said Robinson told her that he bludgeoned Guillén to death when Guillén saw a picture of the still-married Aguilar on his phone and threatened to report him to command for adultery. He removed the body from the armory in a large Pelican case and took it to the nearby Leon River. Aguilar then joined him and helped him dismember the body. The pair attempted to burn the remains before burying them in concrete in three separate holes on the banks of the river.
On June 30, the search for Guillén came to an end when members of the nonprofit Texas EquiSearch discovered her remains.
Robinson was placed under observation at the base, under the pretense that he had violated COVID-19 quarantine protocols, while investigators listened in on recorded phone calls he exchanged with Aguilar. But following a change of guards, Robinson managed to escape.
“Baby, they found pieces, they found pieces,” a panicked Robinson told Aguilar while on the run.
US marshals caught Robinson 4 miles east of Fort Hood. Robinson shot himself in the head.
When a judge asked Aguilar at her first court appearance if she understood the charges, she apathetically responded, “yeah, sure.”
Guillén’s family believed that Aguilar’s lawyers have dragged the process out in the two years since.
Members of the Guillén family comfort each other after the unveiling of the Spc. Vanessa Guillén Gate at Fort Hood, Texas, April 19, 2021. US Army photo by Sgt. Melissa N. Lessard, courtesy of DVIDS.
The Guillén case shone a spotlight on the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in the military after a 15-6 investigation revealed that Guillén had informally reported sexual harassment by multiple members of her unit to no result (Robinson was not one of the men Guillén reported).
The Guillén family worked with Rep. Jackie Speier to bring the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act to the floor of the House, proposing significant changes to the Department of Defense’s policies regarding sex-related offenses. Aspects of the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act were included in the alterations of the DoD justice system passed in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, allowing service members to report abuse outside of their chain of command.
The murder also led to an investigation of the command climate at Fort Hood, ending the career of base commander Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt and relieving 13 other officers and NCOs of duty.
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Maggie BenZvi is a contributing editor for Coffee or Die. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree in human rights from Columbia University, and has worked for the ACLU as well as the International Rescue Committee. She has also completed a summer journalism program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In addition to her work at Coffee or Die, she’s a stay-at-home mom and, notably, does not drink coffee. Got a tip? Get in touch!
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