KILLEEN, Texas - The only surviving suspect in connection with the murder of U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen has received the maximum sentence.
Cecily Aguilar pled guilty in November for her involvement in the 2020 murder. On Aug. 14, Aguilar was sentenced by a federal judge in Waco to 30 years in prison for accessory after the fact and three counts of making false statements.
"Vanessa was taken by the hands of another soldier she was murdered. All she wanted to do was serve her country," said U.S. Rep Sylvia Garcia (D-29). "So, this tragedy must come to an end. But we need to get to the bottom of it to make sure no other family member ever, ever has to go through this."
What happened to Vanessa Guillen?
Guillen went missing at Fort Hood, now known as Fort Cavazos, in April 2020, which sparked a more than two-month-long search. Her remains were later found in Bell County in June 2020 and positively identified by officials in July 2020.
The investigation revealed that Aguilar's boyfriend Spc. Aaron Robinson had brutally murdered Guillen with a hammer on post, and then worked with Aguilar to get rid of her body on the banks of the Leon River.
According to court documents, Aguilar helped Robinson in "corruptly altering, destroying, mutilating and concealing evidence—that is, the body of Vanessa Guillen," says the US Attorney's Office.
Aguilar also altered and destroyed information contained in a Google account belonging to Robinson, and made four materially false statements to federal investigators during the investigation into Guillen's disappearance.
MORE ON THE VANESSA GUILLEN CASE
- Family of Texas soldier Vanessa Guillen seeking $35 million in damages
- More legislation to protect soldiers in Vanessa Guillén's name introduced
- New law named for Vanessa Guillén will revamp military investigations into sexual assault
- Bill addressing deaths of Fort Hood soldiers signed into law
According to reports, Guillen had been sexually harassed and made reports on multiple occasions.
"The findings indicated that she was indeed on two separate occasions," said Major General Gene LeBoeuf.
The allegations were not moved up the chain of command. "We as an army failed to protect Specialist Guillen. It's something we are learning from, studying, and using to drive our army forward," says Maj. Gen. LeBoeuf.
"She went in that base to protect her own country that tremendously failed her," Vanessa's cousin Uriel Guillen Aranda said.
"You know, sometimes I’m speechless as to why these things happen. And why, Vanessa? You know, she never meant any harm to anyone. She was one of the most humble persons ever and for her to be treated worse than that the terrorists or anybody that would try to damage this country when all she wanted to do was protect us", said Vanessa's sister Lupe Guillen.
"I Am Vanessa Guillen" Bill
Guillén’s story prompted hundreds of women to share their own experiences with sexual misconduct in the military on social media, using the hashtag #iamvanessaguillen.
That moment triggered a series of changes, including an investigation that revealed a "permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment at Fort Hood."
Under the new law, the decision to prosecute sexual assault and sexual harassment will be made outside service members’ chain of command, and they will be offered protections against retaliation.
The federal legislation also moves prosecution authority for other offenses — including murder, kidnapping, domestic violence, and child abuse — to independent prosecutors. For these cases, it also establishes sentencing to be made by judges as well as sentencing parameters. Previously, sentences could have been recommended by panels of officers who often had no guidance on minimum sentences.
The I am Vanessa Guillén foundation also gives a voice to survivors of sexual abuse in the military. Murals across Austin and her native Houston keep Guillen's legacy alive, and streaming giant Netflix is now streaming a documentary about her life. The city of Houston has also dedicated the Vanessa Guillén Memorial Highway in South Houston in her honor.
Texas House lawmakers also passed HB 2248, establishing September 30th, Vanessa's birthday, as "Vanessa Guillén Day."