Pvt. Isaac Aguigui was found guilty Thursday by military Judge (Col.) Andrew J. Glass on the fourth day of Aguigui’s court-martial on Fort Stewart for the murder of his wife, Sgt. Deirdre Aguigui, and the death of their unborn son.
Glass told the court he found Aguigui guilty on all charges and findings but noted that he had not considered the government’s evidence that Aguigui was pending administrative discharge.
Four pathologists, accepted by the court as experts in their field, failed to agree on the findings from the autopsy report on Sgt. Deirdre Aguigui during this week’s trial.
The verdict came Thursday after three days of testimony by government and defense witnesses. The trial counsel, consisting of Maj. Scott Hughes and Capts. Catherine Parnell and Jana Lepir, argued successfully that the testimony of Dr. James Down, a forensic pathologist with more than 25 years’ experience demonstrated how Deirdre Aguigui died and why.
They said Isaac Aguigui hated his wife and wanted out of his marriage, and he was motivated by money. Down, who said he has performed more than 4,500 autopsies and assisted in more than 17,000 forensic evaluations, reviewed the autopsy report of a government pathologist, Navy Dr. Lisa River, who admitted she had done just over 200 autopsies at the time she did the autopsy on Deirdre Aguigui.
Rivera and Down noted more than 20 bruises and abrasions were on Deirdre’s body, including abrasions to both wrists and her back. Rivera said these injuries were not the cause of death and provided no information as to the manner of her death. She noted a hemorrhage to her left eyelid but said it was probably due to post-mortem bleeding. She also found a deep bruise to the side of her neck near the carotid artery. This she also attributed to post-mortem bleeding.
Down said these injuries were evidence of manual strangulation, most specifically the result of someone strangling her with what he called a carotid sleeper hold. This information fit with the testimony of former Army Sgt. Michael Schaefer, who said Aguigui confessed to him he had handcuffs his wife, put a plastic bag over her head and then strangled her with a sleeper hold.
Down said when he makes an evaluation he looks not only at the medical evidence but also witness statements.
Schaefer’s testimony, along with others saying that Aguigui had told them he was “better off” without his wife and that he could kill her and get away with it, led him to give a closer look at Deirdre’s injuries.
“The manner of death in this case was murder,” Down said. “The cause of death was manual strangulation with multiple injuries caused by blunt force trauma from binding ligatures.”
Down said he could rule out cardiac arrest because Deirdre had no history of heart problems, there was no evidence of a cardiac event at the scene and a cardiac pathologist had looked at the heart and rule out a heart attack. Dr. Russell Harley, a pulmonary pathologist also ruled out heart attack, and though he said he could see where Down’s findings were possible, he couldn’t make that determination. A fourth pathologist, Dr. Adel Shaker, who testified for the defense, said he agreed with assessment of the other three pathologists but said he was sure Deirdre had, in fact, had a sudden heart attack.
Shaker, a doctor-pathologist with medical training in Egypt and the United States, owns his own forensic consulting firm. During cross-examination, his findings were challenged repeatedly by the government attorneys. Down admitted it was possible for pathologist to look at the same evidence and come up with differing opinions. He emphasized, however, his years of experience in pathology and background with law-enforcement training gave him experience the other pathologists didn’t have.
“Medicine is both an art and a science,” he said. “Different people with different experiences and different training might see things differently ... But I am convinced to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that Deirdre was murdered.”
Read about the sentencing phase of Aguigui’s court-martial in the Sunday Courier.