Pvt. Isaac Aguigui walks into the courtroom during a preliminary hearing at Long County Superior Court in Ludowici, Ga., on Aug. 30. (Stephen Morton/AP)
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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, 23, 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 say 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.
“By the evidence it can be classified either as a stranglehold or some type of smothering,” Kapinus said.
The investigator said about eight hours before Aguigui’s wife died, he had sent a text message from his cellphone to an old girlfriend that said: “We’ll have plenty of money.”
Lt. Col. Kristin Brown, an Army obstetrician who treated Aguigui’s wife during her pregnancy, testified that she had complained that her husband had been unfaithful and that they planned to get a divorce. Investigators also learned that Deirdre Aguigui had sought confidential counseling for domestic abuse.
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 Army officer presiding over the soldier’s Article 32 hearing, similar in some ways to a civilian grand jury, will report to Fort Stewart commanders whether he finds prosecutors have 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 turned on the others last summer. In a plea deal with civilian prosecutors, he agreed to testify 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 Aguigui had Roark and his girlfriend killed because he was leaving the Army and they knew too much about the group. Roark’s father has said Aguigui would give his son money to buy weapons for the militia. Burnett testified that he saw Peden and Salmon shoot them in the head after leading them into the woods at night.
In all, at least 11 suspects — most of them current and Army 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.