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Ga. soldier faces trial in pregnant wife's death

Mar. 22, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Isaac Aguigui
In this July 20 photo, Pvt. Isaac Aguigui of Cashmere, Wash., is lead into a Long County, Ga., courtroom. A court-martial is scheduled to begin Monday for Aguigui, who is charged with killing his pregnant wife in 2011. Civilian prosecutors say Aguigui used $500,000 in life insurance payments from his wife's death to fund an anti-government militia group that stockpiled weapons and bomb parts. (Lewis Levine/The Associated Press)
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SAVANNAH, GA. — When Army Sgt. Deirdre Aguigui was found dead inside her apartment on Fort Stewart, she had bruises above her left ear and inside her mouth as well as raw scrapes and bruises on both wrists that appeared to match a pair of handcuffs found on her bed. But the military doctor who later performed the autopsy was stumped, finding no evidence to reveal what caused her death.

More than 2½ years later, the 24-year-old soldier’s husband is to stand trial by court-martial Monday on charges that he killed her. Pvt. Isaac Aguigui faces an automatic life sentence if he’s convicted of her murder and of causing the death of his unborn child. His wife was midway through a pregnancy when she died.

Conviction or acquittal won’t make much difference for the 22-year-old defendant from Cashmere, Wash. Isaac Aguigui is already serving a life sentence at a Georgia prison with no chance of parole after he pleaded guilty last summer to civilian murder charges in two other killings that occurred eight months after his wife died. Civilian prosecutors say Aguigui orchestrated the slayings of a former soldier and his girlfriend to protect an anti-government militia group that Aguigui funded with $500,000 in life insurance and benefit payments he received from his wife’s death.

Aguigui’s court-martial will likely steer clear of testimony related to the militia case that’s played out in civilian court. But military prosecutors will try to settle questions that have troubled Deirdre Aguigui’s family and friends since she died July 17, 2011. A military judge will have to decide if there’s enough evidence to support prosecutors’ theory that her husband killed her using a lethal chokehold that left no telltale marks. Or the judge could side with defense attorneys who have said the cause of her death remains a mystery.

“All we have is a possibility — one man’s theory,” Capt. Scott Noto, one of Isaac Aguigui’s Army defense lawyers, said at a hearing last July. Noto declined to comment further on the case when reached by phone last week.

The one man the defense attorney referred to is Dr. James Downs, a Georgia state medical examiner who agreed to review the autopsy file on Deirdre Aguigui and give a second opinion after the military failed to determine what killed her. By ruling out other possible causes, Downs concluded the woman was suffocated or choked to death. Marks on her wrists, he said, indicated she struggled violently with her hands cuffed behind her back.

That was enough for military police to charge Isaac Aguigui last April in his wife’s murder. Downs testified at a two-day hearing in July that persuaded commanders to send the case to a court-martial.

At the same hearing, the military doctor who performed the autopsy on Deirdre Aguigui stood by her conclusion that medical evidence failed to point to asphyxiation or any other single cause of death. Lt. Cmdr Lisa Rivera insisted, “There were other possibilities.” While the body had bruises and other injuries, none were damaging enough to have killed her.

When military police found the pregnant soldier dead on a couch after her husband called them to her apartment, they found a pair of handcuffs on a bed scattered with an array of sex toys. Isaac Aguigui told investigators his wife liked to be restrained with handcuffs and they had sex a few hours before he found her dead.

But prosecutors say Aguigui had reason to want his wife dead. Witnesses have testified the couple had been fighting and considering divorce. An old girlfriend confirmed he sent her a text message hours before his wife died that said: “We’ll have plenty of money. All I need is your body whenever I want it.”

Isaac Aguigui has pleaded not guilty in his wife’s death. He chose to have a military judge decide his guilt or innocence rather than a jury of fellow soldiers. Military courts allow either option in most cases.

He met his wife, according to her obituary, at the U.S. Military Academy Prep School that prepares cadets for admission to West Point. But neither became an officer. By November 2010, both of them were stationed at Fort Stewart. Isaac Aguigui worked as an intelligence analyst in the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, while his wife was an Army linguist. She became pregnant after returning from a deployment to Iraq.

While military authorities lacked evidence to charge Aguigui in the months following his wife’s death, he ended up jailed eight months later for a different crime. On Dec. 5, 2011, fishermen found the bodies of former Army Pvt. Michael Roark and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tiffany York, in the woods of rural Long County near Fort Stewart. Both had been shot in the head just two days after Roark was discharged from the Army.

Investigators arrested Aguigui and three other soldiers — Sgt. Anthony Peden, Pvt. Christopher Salmon and Pfc. Michael Burnett — and charged them with the deaths about a week after the bodies were found. Salmon and Peden, who prosecutors say fired the killing shots, are still awaiting trial.

Burnett turned on the others. In a plea deal with civilian prosecutors, he testified in 2012 that Aguigui recruited disgruntled soldiers to form an anti-government militia group called F.E.A.R. — short for Forever Enduring Always Ready. Civilian prosecutors used Burnett’s testimony to expose what they contend were homegrown terrorist plots stretching from Georgia to Washington state. They say Aguigui used the $500,000 in insurance money to buy guns and bomb-making components for the group. However, no one connected with the group has been charged with committing or plotting acts of terrorism.

Aguigui pleaded guilty to two counts of malice murder July 19 in the slayings of Roark and York. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole in a deal with prosecutors that spared him from a possible death sentence.

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