WACO, Texas - Tears, gasps, and hugs were seen and heard in the federal courthouse in Waco as investigators revealed disturbing new details about Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s murder in 2020 during a sentencing hearing Monday.
The attorney for Vanessa Guillen's family said they’re finally getting justice, more than three years after Guillen was killed by a fellow soldier at Fort Hood, now known as Fort Cavazos, and her body was hidden on the banks of the Leon River.
Cecily Aguilar, the only surviving suspect, received 30 years in federal prison, the maximum allowable under law, for her role in covering up the murder. She will receive credit for the three years she's already served.
Aguilar pled guilty in November to accessory after the fact and three counts of making a false statement.
"I’m short of words. Today was a very hard day for my family. There was a lot of new details regarding my sister’s death and the manner that things happened. It’s been very hard to see, to hear. There was audio. There’s just relief today as to know that Cecily will finally be held accountable for her actions," Vanessa Guillen’s sister Mayra Guillen said.
Recordings played in court revealed Aguilar denied any involvement in Guillen’s death at least three times. A Texas Ranger said she finally broke when they told her they found Guillen’s body.
In a recorded interview, Aguilar said, "I didn’t want to get caught up in this, I wanted to act like it didn’t exist. I have nightmares about it."
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In the recording played in court, Aguilar described burning, dismembering, and burying Guillen’s body in cement with her boyfriend Army Spc. Aaron Robinson.
Aguilar’s attorney claimed Aguilar was afraid of Robinson and wasn’t safe with him. A psychologist also testified about Aguilar's rough and traumatizing childhood, but the judge said none of that correlated with causation in this case.
"This was a heinous crime. When they were asking for minimal sentencing, the judge did a great job and said, what would a maximum require? You have skinning, you have decapitation, you have cutting up parts, burning parts, hiding parts, crumbling parts, throwing parts away. It was so grotesque," Guillen family attorney Natalie Khawam said.
During the victim impact speeches, Guillen's family members addressed the judge. While Guillen’s mom was speaking, the judge started crying. Guillen’s mom turned and talked directly to Aguilar and said she hopes she repents.
Guillen’s sisters said they’re proud to be Vanessa’s sister and the impact she’s made on many who have never even met her.
"Her story really touched our lives and being a survivor of MST, I was afraid to say anything because of retaliation. When her story came out, it was like wow, this needs to be told. We need to stand up against this and stop this from going on in our service," said Lakeydra Houston, a survivor of military sexual trauma.
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Former service members and survivors of military sexual trauma traveled from all over Texas to support the Guillen family. They said her case opened up the conversation about holding people accountable for sexual abuse in the military.
"It’s a matter of restoring honor to the military uniform. Women, we join the military because we want to serve like everybody else and when we experience sexual assault, it makes us feel like the honor has been removed from the military uniform," Military Sexual Trauma Survivor Janae Sergio said.
Aguilar is the only person charged in Guillen’s murder. Robinson took his own life before being charged. The judge said Aguilar has the right to appeal his decision and it must be submitted within 14 days.