In what may be the only rendering of justice in the slaying of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a Killeen woman has pleaded guilty to lesser charges for her involvement in the aftermath of the Fort Hood soldier's death.
Cecily Aguilar, 24, is the former girlfriend of Spc. Aaron Robinson, the man Army investigators believe bludgeoned Guillen to death on post in April 2020. Authorities believe the pair worked together to dismember and dispose of Guillen near the Leon River in Bell County shortly after her death.
Aguilar, who was a Killeen civilian employed at a local gas station before her arrest, was linked to the crime on July 1, 2020, the day after Guillen's remains were discovered. That same day, according to Killeen police, Robinson fatally shot himself as authorities sought to question him.
Aguilar was charged in July 2020 with three felony counts of conspiracy to tamper with evidence. She first pleaded not guilty on July 14, 2020, but needed to do so again after a series of attempts by her defense team to have her confession suppressed.
On Tuesday, she pleaded guilty to one count of accessory after the fact and three counts of making a false statement. Aguilar now faces a combined maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
Aguilar's trial was supposed to begin next year in January, but her case will now go straight to sentencing following her plea, according to Natalie Khawam, the Guillen family's attorney.
"Cecily Aguilar's guilty plea today was another step on the long path toward justice for Vanessa, my client, and her courageous family," Khawam said. "I will never stop fighting for my clients and will continue to seek and demand justice for victims and their families until it's achieved."
What happened to Vanessa?
In April 2020, Vanessa Guillen was a Houston-area native serving at Fort Hood, one of the nation's largest military training grounds.
At the time, Fort Hood was proudly enveloped in its decadeslong reputation of preparing troops for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Army had nicknamed the Central Texas post "The Great Place" for the quality of life it offered to those stationed there.
But Vanessa's initial disappearance on April 22, 2020, triggered a chain of events that would not only lead to more public scrutiny of the military but also galvanized a reform movement.
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Mayra Guillen was the first to report her sister missing after her text messages went unanswered. She did not yet know that Vanessa had been killed that day.
With little to no information about Vanessa's whereabouts from the Army, Mayra and her family protested outside Fort Hood over the next several weeks as they called for congressional intervention into what they believed was a complete failure by the post's leadership to find Vanessa.
During one of the protests, Vanessa's mother revealed that her daughter had confided in her that multiple soldiers had been sexually harassing her at Fort Hood.
The Guillen family's protests triggered a viral social media hashtag, #IAmVanessaGuillen, that hundreds of service members used online to share their own experiences with sexual assault and harassment in the military.
Many of the stories were similar, often saying the military did little or nothing to investigate, charge and prosecute their offenders. In many of the social media posts, soldiers said they never reported their experiences because they feared retaliation.
Army officials in the months immediately after Vanessa's body was eventually found had maintained that no evidence backed up any allegations of her being sexual harassed on the post.
It wasn't until more than a year after Vanessa's death that the Army publicly confirmed that she was sexually harassed and further retaliated against at Fort Hood by a superior.
But the public scrutiny of the investigation into her slaying led to revelations at Fort Hood that exposed a hidden culture of violence and misconduct among soldiers, particularly sexual assault and sexual harassment.
The #IAmVanessaGuillen movement caught the attention of lawmakers in Washington. Elements of a proposed I Am Vanessa Guillen Act initially failed to pass through Congress as a standalone bill. But its key reforms eventually were included in the National Defense Authorization Act signed into law by President Joe Biden.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Cecily Aguilar pleads guilty to role in Vanessa Guillen killing