AUSTIN, Texas – A Texas woman charged in the disappearance and death of U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood appeared in court Monday morning, federal officials said.
Cecily Aguilar, a Killeen, Texas, resident who was charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence last week, appeared virtually in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey C. Manske, officials said.
The hearing was an initial appearance. An arraignment, where Aguilar would be expected to enter a plea, has not been scheduled yet, officials said.
Authorities have accused Aguilar of helping 20-year-old Spc. Aaron David Robinson mutilate and dispose of Guillen’s body after Robinson killed her by hitting her in the head with a hammer.
Robinson shot himself last week when authorities had confronted him during the investigation, Killeen police have said.
Aguilar was asked during Monday’s hearing if she understood the charges against her.
“Yeah, sure,” she replied, according to KCEN-TV.
The hearing comes after an attorney said the Army confirmed to Guillen’s family over the weekend that remains found last week near the Leon River in Bell County, about 20 miles east of Fort Hood, were those of Guillen, a 20-year-old Houston native.
On Sunday, Guillen’s sister Mayra Guillen tweeted: “It’s been confirmed...”
Over the Fourth of July weekend, videos and photos were posted online, some using the hashtag ”#JusticeForVanessaGuillen,” showing vigils and memorials for Guillen and groups gathering and holding signs for justice in Austin, Houston and San Antonio.
In El Paso, more than 100 protesters marched to Fort Bliss on Saturday to protest the Army’s handling of the case and demand accountability from authorities.
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Guillen was last seen on April 22 in the parking lot of the Regimental Engineer Squadron Headquarters where she worked at Fort Hood, a sprawling 334-square mile Army post in Killeen, about an hour north of Austin.
Guillen’s disappearance gained national attention, with her family and friends searching for her and demanding justice on her behalf for months. Her family said Guillen had been sexually harassed at Fort Hood, once when a man walked in on her while she was showering.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier of California on Friday called for an investigation into Guillen’s workplace, her disappearance and the Army’s response to both.
“SPC Guillen’s disappearance raises deep, troubling concerns about the Army’s ability to prevent sexual harassment and assault, respond to criminal acts, and provide justice for victims and theirs families,” Gillibrand and Speier said in a letter.
Army officials last week said no evidence linked sexual harassment to the soldier’s disappearance.
The criminal complaint filed against Aguilar describes how authorities think Guillen was killed and dismembered after an argument with Robinson.
A witness told authorities that Guillen left a weapons room on Fort Hood where she was working to visit one controlled by Robinson, the complaint says.
Robinson told investigators on April 22 that he texted Guillen to tell her he was in the arms room. The last outgoing text message from Guillen’s phone was to Robinson, the complaint says.
The document does not say what Guillen and Robinson’s relationship was.
The complaint says that Robinson said Guillen arrived and read serial numbers for equipment. He gave her paperwork and a serial number for a .50 caliber machine gun that needed to be serviced. Robinson said Guillen left the arms room and he thought she went to the motor pool.
Witnesses at the motor pool said Guillen did not arrive with the paperwork.
Multiple phone calls between Aguilar and Robinson after Guillen was last seen
On April 28, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command officials interviewed Robinson. He said that on April 22, he finished work and went to his off-post home that he shared with his girlfriend, Aguilar. He said he did not leave all night, except at 6:30 p.m. when he went onto Fort Hood to sign into a government computer to enroll in training, the complaint says.
Two witnesses on May 18 said they saw Robinson on pulling a large “tough box” out of the arms room he worked in on April 22. The witnesses said Robinson put the box into his vehicle and drove away.
A search of Robinson’s phone found that he called Aguilar multiple times the night of April 22, including at 3:30 a.m. on April 23. He also received calls from Aguilar throughout the day.
On June 19, Aguilar was interviewed by investigators. She said she was with Robinson all night on April 22.
When asked why Robinson would call her after midnight if they were together at home, she said she couldn’t find her phone and he called to help her find it, the complaint says.
“This statement, however, is inconsistent with the lengths of the calls,” the complaint says. Calls made after midnight were for greater than one minute.
During another interview, Aguilar said she lied and did leave the residence to go on a long drive. She said long drives help her cope. Aguilar said she and Robinson took a long drive to Belton, Texas, to look at the stars on April 22.
Belton is about 21 miles east of Fort Hood in Bell County.
Phone info led authorities to remains
Investigators analyzed Robinson’s phone and found that at 1:59 a.m. on April 23, Robinson’s cellphone was in the vicinity of FM 436 and West Main Street in Belton around a bridge. His phone tracked along the Leon River going north and was in the area for roughly two hours, the complaint says.
Investigators analyzed Aguilar’s phone as well. It revealed that she and Robinson were near the Leon River together on April 23 and April 26.
Based on the phone data, Army investigators searched Leon River on June 21. A “burn site with disturbed earth was identified.” The burned remains of what appeared to be a plastic tote or tough box were found near the area where Robinson’s phone was, but no remains were found.
Then on June 30 around 1 p.m., contractors working on a fence adjacent to the Leon River contacted investigators because they found what appeared to be human remains.
Robinson ran away from his post the evening of June 30 after hearing reports that human remains had been found. He was later found east of Fort Hood, where he shot himself as Killeen police confronted him early Wednesday.
Officials searched the area and found scattered human remains that appeared to have been placed into a concrete-like substance and buried, the complaint says.
Aguilar was interviewed again on June 30. She told investigators that Robinson told her he fatally hit a woman soldier in the head with a hammer multiple times in his arms room on Fort Hood on April 22.
Between the night of April 22 and early April 23, Robinson picked up Aguilar at a gas station where she worked and took her to Leon River near a bridge. There, Robinson walked Aguilar over to the woods and opened a box that was already there. Aguilar said she saw a body, that she later identified as Guillen, inside the box, the complaint says.
Robinson and Aguilar, the complaint says, used a hatchet or ax and a machete-type knife to dismember the body. They attempted to burn the body before putting it in three separate holes and covering up the remains, the complaint says.
If convicted, Aguilar faces up to 20 years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
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This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Vanessa Guillen case: Cecily Aguilar, tied to killing, shows in court