Investigator: Soldier’s wife choked or smothered
FORT STEWART, Ga. — A Georgia-based soldier sent an old girlfriend a text message saying “we’ll have plenty of money” a few hours before his pregnant wife died, allowing him to collect more than $500,000 in life insurance and benefit payments from the Army, a military investigator testified Monday.
Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, 22, has been charged by the Army with murdering his wife, Sgt. Deirdre Aguigui, and with causing the death of their unborn child in July 2011. A preliminary hearing at Fort Stewart will ultimately determine whether the case goes to a court-martial and, if so, whether commanders will seek the death penalty. Investigators say the young couple had been separated until not long before the 24-year-old woman died.
“She had kicked him out of the house for reasons of infidelity and drug use,” said Chief Warrant Officer Justin Kapinus, an Army criminal investigator. “It was very evident they had a rough marriage.”
Isaac Aguigui of Cashmere, Wash., is already facing the death penalty in a Georgia civilian court. Prosecutors in neighboring Long County said he ordered the deaths of two people in December 2011 to help protect an anti-government militia that he organized by recruiting disgruntled soldiers and funded with the money he received from his wife’s death.
Aguigui called 911 on the evening of July 17, 2011, saying he found his wife unconscious and unresponsive on the couch, with chunks of a potato she’d eaten for dinner in her mouth, Kapinus said.
Kapinus testified that initial results of an autopsy on Deirdre Aguigui were inconclusive, with no cause or manner of death given. Her husband wasn’t charged with her killing until this past April, when a second look by a medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded someone killed the woman by choking her or otherwise blocking her airway, Kapinus said.
When she died, Deirdre Aguigui had small cuts and abrasions on her wrists and investigators found a pair of handcuffs on the bed, Kapinus said. The bed was also covered with sex toys, leg restraints and other paraphernalia. The investigator said Isaac Aguigui told investigators he and his wife had used the handcuffs and other items during sex a few hours earlier. Kapinus said he suspects the bedroom scene was staged. He said, “It seemed excessive.”
The day his wife died, Aguigui had just returned to Georgia from a weekend trip to South Carolina with an Army buddy, Michael Schaefer. Now in jail awaiting trial on an unrelated robbery charge, Schaefer testified by phone that they had barely hit the road when his friend started complaining bitterly about his marriage.
“He said he’d be better off if she was gone,” Schaefer said. “And I took it as him saying he wished she was dead. And I remember telling him that’s what divorce is for.”
Schaefer recalled Aguigui told him and others that a blood clot killed his wife. Samantha Thacker, a fellow soldier who struck up a romance with Aguigui in 2010 while they were training in Arizona, said he told her that his wife died in a car crash and to stop asking him questions.
Thacker confirmed Aguigui sent her a text message about eight hours before his wife’s death to tell her he would never have to work again.
“We’ll have plenty of money,” said the message to Thacker, which prosecutors read aloud in court. “All I need is your body whenever I want it.”
Isaac Aguigui’s defense attorneys insisted that while there was evidence he cheated on his wife, prosecutors had little proof that he killed her.
Capt. William Cook, an Army defense attorney, said the death of Aguigui’s wife was “still a mystery.”
The soldier’s Article 32 hearing is similar in several ways to a civilian grand jury. The presiding officer, Maj. John McLaughlin, will report to Fort Stewart commanders whether there’s enough evidence to try Aguigui in a court-martial. The hearing was scheduled to continue Tuesday.
Authorities jailed Isaac Aguigui nearly eight months after his wife’s death, but 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.
Burnett struck a plea deal with civilian prosecutors and testified last summer that Aguigui led an anti-government militia group he’d formed inside the military called F.E.A.R. – short for Forever Enduring Always Ready. Civilian prosecutors say the group talked of bombing a park fountain in nearby Savannah, poisoning apple crops in Washington state and even killing the U.S. president.
Burnett said Roark and York were killed because Roark had just left the Army and the couple knew too much about the group.
At least 11 suspects – most of them current and former soldiers – have been arrested in connection with the militia group on charges ranging from theft and drug dealing to murder. But none have been charged with committing or plotting acts of terrorism.