Justice couldn’t come soon enough for the protesters who gathered on Wednesday afternoon outside the federal courthouse in Waco to chant, “Lock her up!” and “Justice for Vanessa now!” while passing drivers honked in agreement. Others gripped signs proclaiming, “Justice delayed is justice denied” and “#I am Vanessa Guillen.”
The gathering coincided with a court hearing in the case of a woman who is facing two federal charges related to the murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen. The 20-year-old Houston native was stationed at Fort Hood before she was reported missing on April 23, 2020.
Cecily Aguilar, 23, has been held without bond in the McLennan County Jail for nearly a year. She is accused of helping Army Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, her boyfriend, dispose of Guillen’s body after he allegedly killed her with a hammer on April 22, 2020, at Fort Hood, according to a criminal complaint.
Aguilar has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Robinson killed himself on July 1, 2020, after being cornered by police in Killeen.
Guillen’s sister, bullhorn in hand, spoke to the crowd outside the courthouse in Waco and lead chants while the hearing proceeded Wednesday. Inside the courthouse, the ambiance was one of temperance as U.S. District Judge Alan Albright heard more than two hours of testimony and arguments on a “motion to suppress” filed earlier this year by Aguilar’s defense attorney.
He then called a five-minute recess and returned with his decision to deny the motion.
Filed on March 24, the motion was an attempt to prevent a future jury from hearing Aguilar’s confession. According to the motion, Aguilar made statements during an interview with police on June 30, 2020, without being advised of her Miranda rights, which would be a violation of her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
During the hearing, three people testified and the court heard portions of police interviews with Aguilar.
Testifying first were witnesses for the prosecution, two law enforcement officers who had active roles in the investigation: a Texas Ranger and a police officer who serves as a U.S. Marshal.
Ranger Samuel “Travis” Dendy testified that during the investigation, he “chased down leads day-to-day and performed interviews.”
He interviewed Aguilar twice in May of 2020 and, most consequentially, on June 30, 2020, after Guillen’s remains had been found along the Leon River in Bell County.
The tone of the interviews changed over time as more details emerged, according to police testimony.
During the initial interviews, “we wanted to talk to her about Robinson and try to assess her knowledge of his demeanor and corroborate what he had told Army CID,” Dendy said.
Investigators spoke with her again after police said cellphone data pointed toward “inconsistencies.”
“I told her that we weren’t interested in prosecuting her for false statements,” Dendy said. He said that she told him a long story about going for a drive near the Leon River as a coping mechanism.
“That’s when I got confrontational and told her that I know she lied to me,” he said.
Dendy said that her Miranda rights were read after her confession at the time of the arrest.
‘Interview’ or ‘interrogation’?
During their cross-examination of the two law enforcement officers, Aguilar’s defense attorneys questioned how free and voluntary the “interrogation” on June 30, 2020, actually was.
“She wasn’t read her Miranda rights until after she confessed, three hours into the interrogation,” said federal public defender Lewis Gainor, to Dendy. “Your intention was to get a confession from her so it was not in your interest for her to invoke her rights to an attorney.”
Dendy said that she was cooperating and providing information, which is why he did not read her Miranda rights.
One person testified for the defense.
Amanda Kelly of Killeen delineated the events of June 30, 2020, before Aguilar was taken to the Army CID unit for that interview with Dendy. She told the court that she and Aguilar became acquaintances after meeting at the convenience store where Aguilar worked.
“She asked for a ride to the Fort Hood barracks to get her boyfriend’s car,” Kelly said. “As soon as I turned around in the barrack’s parking lot, (police) swarmed in around us. All of a sudden, they were there, lights flashing. I was shocked. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Officers separated the two women and questioned them at that location for around 15-20 minutes, Kelly said.
“They told me she was involved in something but they didn’t go into detail,” she said. “When I left, she was in the backseat of the (police) truck.”
Gainor argued that Aguilar essentially was under arrest at that moment and should have been Mirandized soon thereafter.