Associated Press Writer
FORT STEWART — A pregnant Army soldier struggled violently against handcuffs on her wrists and suffered blows to the head before she died from a lack of oxygen, likely caused by someone keeping her in a chokehold, a Georgia medical examiner said Tuesday.
Sgt. Deirdre Aguigui was found dead July 17, 2011, at her apartment on Fort Stewart. The military charged her husband, Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, with murder in April and conducted a two-day hearing to determine if there’s enough evidence to try him in court-martial.
A military autopsy on the 24-year-old woman was unable to determine a cause of death. But investigators got a second opinion from Dr. James Downs, a Savannah-based medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who agreed to look at the case earlier this year.
Using records and photos from the previous autopsy, Downs noted Deirdre Aguigui had a large, deep bruise above her left ear and more bruising on the inside of her lips and left cheek. Both wrists had raw scrapes and bruises that appeared to match a pair of handcuffs found on the couple’s bed.
Downs said he concluded the woman was choked or suffocated by essentially ruling out other possible causes of death. Her heart appeared healthy, she showed no signs of allergic reaction and lab tests found no traces of poisons in her blood.
“If you put everything together, I think you would reasonably end up where I am, which is asphyxiation,” said Downs, adding he could understand why military doctors hesitated to reach a similar conclusion. “I certainly can see somebody being not willing to make that call and leave it undetermined.”
A single, small scrape was the only mark found on the woman’s neck. Lt. Cmdr Lisa Rivera, the military doctor who performed the autopsy, said it was likely caused by somebody putting pressure on it. But she said that easily could have been the paramedic who inserted a tube in the woman’s throat.
Rivera said she stood by her conclusion that the medical evidence failed to point to asphyxiation or any other single cause of death.
“There were other possibilities,” Rivera said, though she didn’t name any. “Everyone in the office was in agreement it could not be narrowed down any further.”
When Isaac Aguigui’s Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury, opened Monday, Army investigators testified he received more than $500,000 in life insurance and benefit payments after his wife died. Witnesses testified the couple had been fighting and considering divorce because of Aguigui’s infidelity and drug use. 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.”
Civilian prosecutors in neighboring Long County say Aguigui used some of the money to buy guns and bomb components for an anti-government militia group he formed by recruiting other disgruntled soldiers. He and two other soldiers face the death penalty on civilian murder charges in the December 2011 slayings of former Army Pvt. Michael Roark and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tiffany York. They were found shot in the woods of rural Long County near Fort Stewart just two days after Roark was discharged from the Army.
Military prosecutors made no mention of any militia connections. They said Aguigui killed his wife for money after tiring of his turbulent marriage. They asked the hearing’s presiding officer, Maj. John McLaughlin, to recommend that Aguigui face a trial by court-martial on charges of premeditated murder, which would allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty. He didn’t say how soon he will decide.
“As the accused’s resentment for his wife grew into hatred, he realized Sgt. Aguigui was worth more to him dead than she was alive,” Army prosecutor Maj. Jaclyn Grieser said in her closing argument.
Aguigui’s defense attorneys argued the case against him contained no conclusive evidence that anybody killed his wife.
“All we have is a possibility — one man’s theory,” said Capt. Scott Noto, an Army defense lawyer.
Aguigui’s attorneys suggested the wounds on his wife’s wrists and other injuries came from them having rough but consensual sex. Chief Warrant Officer Justin Kapinus, an Army criminal investigator, testified Monday that police found the handcuffs on Aguigui’s bed along with an array of sex toys and leg restraints. He said Aguigui told investigators his wife liked being restrained with handcuffs and they had sex a few hours before he found her dead on a couch. Kapinus said he suspects the bedroom scene was staged because it looked “too excessive.”
Downs said it was possible the bruises could have come from rough sex. But he said the wrist wounds seemed to indicate somebody violently struggling against handcuffs as opposed to willingly wearing them.