By Haley Britzky, CNN
(CNN) — Cecily Aguilar, the woman charged in connection with the 2020 killing of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, has been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.
Aguilar pleaded guilty last year to one count of accessory after the fact, and three counts of making a false statement. Aguilar’s boyfriend at the time, Spc. Aaron Robinson, is accused of killing and dismembering Guillen, and then recruiting Aguilar to assist in disposing her body near Fort Cavazos, Texas, formerly known as Fort Hood.
Robinson died by suicide as authorities closed in on him in 2020, making Aguilar the only person charged in connection to Guillen’s death.
“Our hope is that today’s sentence brings a sense of relief and justice to the Guillen family, who have endured such pain throughout these past few years,” US Attorney Jaime Esparza for the Western District of Texas said in a news release Monday. “Ms. Aguilar’s actions were indefensible, and she will now face the maximum penalty for the choices she made.”
In a news conference after Aguilar’s sentencing, Mayra Guillen, Vanessa’s sister, said it was “a very hard day for my family.”
“There’s relief today, as Cecily will finally be held accountable for her actions,” she said. “I’m happy to say that we can, in a sense, close this chapter and keep moving forward.”
A news release from federal prosecutors in Texas last year said from April 22, 2020, to July 1, 2020, Aguilar assisted Robinson “in corruptly altering, destroying, mutilating and concealing evidence—that is, the body of Vanessa Guillen—in order to prevent Robinson from being charged with and prosecuted for any crime.”
The release went on to say Aguilar “altered and destroyed information” from Robinson’s Google account and made four “materially false statements” to federal investigators.
She received the maximum sentence for her role in the crimes – 30 years, prosecutors said.
Guillen, who was a 20-year-old private first class at the time of her death, went missing in April 2020. Her family, investigators and civilian volunteers searched the area surrounding Fort Cavazos for weeks before discovering her body in a shallow grave on June 30.
It was later revealed that Robinson had killed Guillen in an armory room by bludgeoning her with a hammer. According to court documents, Robinson then put Guillen’s body in a box and drove her to the Leon River, roughly 20 miles from base.
He then picked up Aguilar from her work and the two drove back, allegedly dismembering Guillen and attempting to burn her body before burying her in three separate holes, according to court records.
Mayra Guillen said during Monday’s press conference that Aguilar faced her family and asked for forgiveness, which “really took me by surprise.”
“It just doesn’t make any sense to me as to why she took so long to speak up and you can’t tell me her demeanor is going to change from one morning to the next, and it’s just hard to find that apology sincere,” she said.
Guillen’s story resulted in a wave of new policies for the Army and military as a whole. In the wake of her disappearance, women flooded social media with their own stories of sexual assault and harassment in the military, using the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen.
In 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law provisions from the “I Am Vanessa Guillen” Act, which mandated that prosecution decisions about sexual assault and harassment would be moved outside of a soldier’s chain of command — a significant change for the military. The act also criminalized sexual harassment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
In her statement to the court on Monday, and shared with CNN, Natalie Khawam, the attorney representing Guillen’s family, said Aguilar’s sentence “needs to set the example for anyone that will ever contemplate mutilating, destroying, and/or concealing a body.”
“Your honor, Vanessa Guillen served this country,” Khawam said. “It’s imperative that you set the appropriate precedent today so heinous acts like this will never occur on our turf again.”
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