Suspect in Vanessa Guillén’s killing pleads guilty

People gather outside of Power House Gym in Houston to honor Army Specialist Vanessa Guilln in 2020. Cecily Ann Aguilar pled guilty in court on Tuesday in connection with the murder for allegedly helping her boyfriend dismember and hide Guillns body. (Briana Vargas For The Texas Tribune, Briana Vargas For The Texas Tribune)

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The former girlfriend of the man accused of killing Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén in 2020 pleaded guilty Tuesday on charges connected with the murder — closing a chapter in a saga that ignited a push to reform how the military handles sexual harassment within its ranks.

Cecily Ann Aguilar, 24, the only living suspect in Guillén’s killing, faces up to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of making a false statement and one count of accessory after the fact, news station KWTX reported Tuesday.

Aguilar faces the possibility of a $1 million fine and 12 years of supervised release after she completes her sentence, according to KWTX.

Army Spc. Aaron David Robinson shot and killed himself as police tried to arrest him in connection with Guillén’s murder. Authorities believe he killed Guillén after he had sexually harassed her. Aguilar was charged in connection with the murder for allegedly helping Robinson dismember and hide Guillén’s body.

“I comfort myself in knowing that she’ll be locked up for most of the rest of her life,” Mayra Guillén, Vanessa Guillén’s sister, told reporters outside of a federal courthouse in Waco after Aguilar entered her plea. “I hope she has time to sit and think about what it is that she did and how she impacted our lives.”

Guillén’s killing prompted nationwide outrage as well as calls to reform the military justice system and address sexual harassment and violence within the military. Guillén, who was 20 when she was killed two years ago, twice reported being sexually harassed by Robinson before he allegedly killed her. Guillén was found in a shallow grave near Fort Hood. She had been bludgeoned to death.

Last year, Congress enacted a law — dubbed the “I Am Vanessa Guillén Act” — removing investigations into military sexual harassment and sexual assault from service members’ chain of command and offering them protections against retaliation for reporting allegations, part of a broader effort to give commanders less sway over military justice.

The military justice system often operates in starkly different ways than the legal system for civilians. A first-of-its-kind analysis by The Texas Tribune and ProPublica showed that, under a system controlled by commanders, soldiers in the Army accused of sexual assault were less than half as likely to be detained ahead of trial than, for example, drug offenses.