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Tuesday May 31st, 2016 10:19AM

Ga. soldier to face court-martial in wife's death

By The Associated Press
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) An Army soldier accused of funding an anti-government militia group with more than $500,000 in insurance and benefit payments from the death of his pregnant wife will face a court-martial on charges that he murdered her, Fort Stewart officials said Wednesday.

Military authorities say Sgt. Deirdre Aguigui struggled violently against handcuffs cutting into her wrists before she died in July 2011 from a lack of oxygen, likely because she was being held in a chokehold. Her husband, Army Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, has already pleaded guilty to two unrelated counts of murder two months ago in a Georgia civilian court, where he avoided the death penalty by agreeing to serve life in prison without parole.

Commanders at Fort Stewart, where Aguigui and his wife were stationed in southeast Georgia, still opted to pursue a court-martial for the 22-year-old soldier in his wife's death based on evidence presented at a preliminary hearing barely two weeks before Aguigui pleaded guilty in Long County Superior Court.

Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson said Wednesday commanders decided not to seek the death penalty for Aguigui of Cashmere, Wash. If convicted of premeditated murder, he would automatically face another life sentence either with or without the possibility of parole. His military trial has been scheduled to begin Jan. 21.

``I'm just waiting for the trial to be done with it,'' said Alma Wetzker, the father of Deirdre Aguigui. ``I'm just looking to get this behind us and move on.''

Aguigui's military defense attorneys, Capt. Scott Noto and Capt. William Cook, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Wednesday.

Deirdre Aguigui was about midway through her pregnancy when she was found dead July 17, 2011, in the apartment she shared with her husband. 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. He reviewed records and photos from the previous autopsy and concluded the woman was choked or suffocated by essentially ruling out any other cause of death.

Police found a pair of handcuffs on the couple's bed that appeared to match raw scrapes and bruises on the dead woman's arms. At his preliminary hearing in July, Isaac Aguigui's attorneys suggested the wounds on his wife's wrists came from them having rough but consensual sex.

Aguigui collected more than $500,000 in life insurance and benefit payments after his wife died. And prosecutors say he sent a text message to an old girlfriend just hours before her death that said: ``We'll have plenty of money. All I need is your body whenever I want it.''

Army investigators took 21 months to charge Aguigui with killing his wife. By the time they did, he was already jailed in connection with a double-slaying that occurred months after his wife died.

Civilian prosecutors say Michael Roark, a former member of Aguigui's Army unit, and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tiffany York, were killed because Aguigui feared they would expose an anti-government militia group he had formed with other disgruntled soldiers. Civilian authorities say Aguigui used part of the insurance money from his wife's death to stockpile guns and bomb-making parts and the group talking of bombing a park fountain in nearby Savannah, poisoning apple crops in Washington state and even killing the U.S. president.

Aguigui pleaded guilty to murder charges in Roark and York's deaths July 19 to avoid a possible death sentence. Prosecutors say he ordered their deaths and two other soldiers, Sgt. Anthony Peden and Pvt. Christopher Salmon, shot the young couple after luring them into the woods. Peden and Salmon are still awaiting trial.
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