(CN) — A woman accused of helping her Army soldier boyfriend bury the body of fellow soldier Vanessa Guillen after he repeatedly struck her in the head with a hammer in a Fort Hood armory made her first appearance in federal court Monday.
Cecily Aguilar, 22, faces up to 20 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine if convicted of conspiracy to tamper with evidence.
She appeared briefly via videoconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Manske in Waco federal court and assistant federal public defender Lewis Gainor was assigned to represent her.
A detention hearing in which Manske will decide whether she is eligible for release on bond is set for July 14 at 9:30 a.m. Gainor did not immediately respond Monday to emailed questions about Aguilar’s initial appearance.
Guillen, who grew up in Houston, joined the Army in June 2018 as a small arms repairer and was assigned to Fort Hood, a base 70 miles north of Austin that takes up 214,000 acres and is the workplace of nearly 40,000 soldiers.
She did not show up for her unit’s roll call on April 23 and was reported missing. Her car keys, barracks room key and ID card were found in the armory room she was working in on April 22.
The case stagnated for two months and Guillen’s family and their attorney, in press conferences and media interviews, accused the Army of not being transparent with them about its investigation, and speculated a superior Guillen had told them was sexually harassing her was involved in her disappearance.
A break came June 30 when human remains were found near the Leon River in Bell County, buried under concrete and rocks.
Late that night, the Killeen Police Department received a tip from the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division that Army Specialist Aaron David Robinson, a 20-year-old person of interest in Guillen’s case, was in the city.
Killeen police found Robinson around 1 a.m. the next morning and he shot and killed himself as they moved in on him.
Aguilar was arrested July 1 and booked into the Bell County Jail. The next day, federal prosecutors in Waco filed a criminal complaint against her.
In an affidavit backing the complaint, FBI agent Jonathan Varga says law enforcement interviewed Aguilar on June 30 shortly after Guillen’s remains were found, and she admitted that 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.
“SPC Robinson then placed her in a box and moved the box to a location near the Leon River, in Belton, Texas,” the affidavit states.
Robinson took Aguilar to the site and they dismembered Guillen with a machete and tried to burn her body, according to the affidavit.
“However, the body would not burn completely. They placed the dead female in three separate holes and covered up the remains,” Varga wrote in his sworn statement.
Army investigators confirmed on Sunday the remains were Guillen’s.
Damon Phelps, a Fort Hood Army Criminal Investigation Division special agent, said at a news conference Thursday that speculation Robinson was Guillen’s superior was incorrect, and the Army had found no evidence that Robinson had sexually harassed Guillen.
The Army promoted Guillen from private first class to specialist on July 1 based on her time in service.
Robinson was a specialist who enlisted in the Army in October 2017. As a combat engineer, he oversaw an armory room at Fort Hood, according to court records.
A witness told investigators that before she disappeared, Guillen had left the armory room where she was working to visit Robinson’s armory room to get the serial number of a gun that needed to be serviced, according to the FBI agent’s statement in support of Aguilar’s criminal complaint.
The last text message Guillen sent on April 22 was to Robinson’s phone, the affidavit states.
Though the Army says its investigation found no evidence a superior sexually harassed Guillen before she was murdered, it has opened a probe into Fort Hood’s protocols for dealing with reports of sexual harassment and assault.
Seven officials from the Army Forces Command Inspector General’s office started the investigation last week, the Army Times reported.