Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Accused Accessory to Vanessa Guillén’s Murder Seeks to Suppress Confession

A woman charged with helping her boyfriend bury the remains of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén claims her confession should be suppressed because law enforcement interrogated her without first reading her Miranda rights.

(CN) — A woman charged with helping her boyfriend bury the remains of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén claims her confession should be suppressed because law enforcement interrogated her without first reading her Miranda rights.

Cecily Aguilar, 22, was arrested June 30 after confessing to a Texas Ranger she had helped her boyfriend Army Specialist Aaron Robinson dismember Guillén's body and bury it near the Leon River in Belton, Texas.

Aguilar admitted Robinson had told her he hit a female soldier in the head with a hammer multiple times in the Fort Hood armory room he supervised on April 22, according to court records.

As the search for Guillén dragged on for weeks, her family accused the Army of a cover-up and speculated that a superior Guillén had told them had walked in on her when she was showering in her barracks was involved in her disappearance.

But law enforcement zeroed in on Robinson because his cellphone records from late April had placed him at the site where Guillén's body was found June 30, buried in three holes that had been filled with concrete.

In a motion to suppress filed Wednesday, Aguilar’s defense attorney, assistant public defender Lewis Gainor, says police detained her at Fort Hood that same day after pulling over the driver of a van who had picked her up from work.

They confiscated her phone they took her to a windowless interrogation room at the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command Office on the base in Killeen, Texas.

Texas Ranger Travis Dendy shut the door and started questioning Aguilar without advising her of her Miranda rights, Gainor says in the filing.

Aguilar told Dendy she and Robinson had gone for a long drive the night of April 22 to Belton, where they had stargazed at a park, the suppression motion states, citing a video recording of the interrogation.

"Ranger Dendy asked, 'And that’s the story you’re going to stick with?' ... He followed up by asking Ms. Aguilar if she was willing to die for Robinson, to which she responded, 'Sure.'... Then if she was willing to go to jail for him, and she said, 'No.'... Dendy said, 'that’s the route we’re fixing to go down because I know that you’re lying to me,'" the motion states.

After Dendy said they had found a body where she and Robinson were at on April 22, Aguilar changed her story, saying Robinson had taken her to the woods and showed her the box in which he had stuffed Guillen's body, then made her help him dismember it.

"Dendy stressed to Ms. Aguilar that her assistance now would 'make the difference between you spending 40 years, 30 years, or 20 years in prison,'" the motion states.

Aguilar was sobbing throughout the interrogation and three hours into it, after she had placed phone calls to Robinson to help police locate him, Ranger Dendy told her she was under arrest and read her Miranda rights.

Killeen police found Robinson around 1 a.m. the next morning and he shot and killed himself before they could arrest him.

Aguilar's attorney says in the suppression motion that police violated her Fourth Amendment rights when they detained her during the June 30 traffic stop without a warrant or probable cause. Consequently, he says, "Aguilar’s statements must be suppressed as a fruit of the illegal seizure and also as involuntary statements."

Gainor says although police initially told Aguilar she was not under arrest and was free to leave, they did not tell her that at the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command Office, which he describes as the "equivalent of a Fort Hood police station," so her statements were not an act of free will.

Gainor also claims Denby subjected Aguilar to a two-step interrogation the U.S. Supreme Court found in its 2004 ruling in Seibert v. Missouri is illegal: He did not advise her of her Miranda rights until she confessed, then gave her the warning and had her go back over what she had told him to make her statements admissible in court.

Therefore, Gainor says, Aguilar's statements both before and after she was Mirandized should be suppressed.

According to the motion, Aguilar believed she had secured her freedom by cooperating with Denby and was incredulous when he arrested her.

Gainor and Aguilar asked for an evidentiary hearing to resolve factual issues.

Should the hearing request be approved, they want the prosecution to disclose dashcam or body cam footage from police interactions with Aguilar during the traffic stop that led to her interrogation, and the list of witnesses prosecutors plan to call to the stand at least 48 hours before the hearing.

Asked to comment on the suppression motion, the Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Texas Rangers, said it does not discuss active criminal cases.

Guillén was one of 25 soldiers assigned to Fort Hood who died last year due to suicide, homicide or accidents, according to the Associated Press. The deaths led the Army to clean house at Fort Hood.

It fired or suspended 14 high-ranking Fort Hood officers in December and announced the results of an investigation that found women stationed at the base were hesitant to speak out about sexual harassment out of fear of retaliation, and they had lost faith in investigations because they languished in the hands of inexperienced Army Criminal Investigation Command staff who lacked basic tools, such as cellphone tracking and data-extraction technology.

The probe also found the Army lacked uniform protocols on how to proceed when soldiers failed to show up for muster, or daily roll calls.

In announcing the results of the inquiry in December, then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said it would start implementing reforms recommended by the committee that led the probe before April.

Follow @cam_langford
Categories / Civil Rights, Criminal, Regional

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.