The court-martial of Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, who is charged with the July 17, 2011, murder of his wife and killing their unborn child, went into its second day Tuesday. He faces an automatic life sentence if a military judge convicts him.
Nearly 20 witnesses were called on the first day, beginning with former Army Sgt. Michael Schaefer, who changed his previous sworn statements and testimony during last year’s Article 32 hearing.
Schaefer was given immunity from prosecution but said he was promised nothing in exchange for his testimony. Schaefer, who received a Chapter 10 (other than honorable) discharge from the Army for being absent without official leave, currently is incarcerated on unrelated robbery charges in Columbia, S.C. He was transported to the Fort Stewart courtroom wearing wrist and ankle restraints.
He testified Monday that Aguigui confessed to killing his pregnant wife.
He told the court he and Aguigui had gone to his hometown near Columbia on July 15, 2011. He admitted they drank, smoked Spice and did cocaine and Ecstasy while playing video games and watching a movie about some medical students who killed people, then challenged their colleagues to figure out how they did it.
Schaefer told the court he never saw any signs of physical abuse on Aguigui’s wife, Sgt. Deirdre Aguigui, but said Aguigui told him he was “better off without her.”
“We got to smoking,” Schaefer said. “He said he could kill (Deirdre) and get away with it. Since we were high, I didn’t think he was serious.”
He said that as they drove back to Fort Stewart that Sunday, July 17, a sober Aguigui told him he had talked to another soldier about killing his wife for him, but the man didn’t want to do it. Schaefer said he thought Aguigui was “feeling me out” to see if he would help him.
Schaefer told the court he had always been suspicious after Deirdre Aguigui died, but didn’t know for sure until weeks later when he and Aguigui spent a weekend partying near Savannah. He said Aguigui had received the first $100,000 in his wife’s Soldier’s Group Life Insurance, and had bought $100 worth of cocaine.
During that weekend, Schaefer said he got a call from his supervisor and had to return to Fort Stewart. He didn’t realize Aguigui had left his debit card in Schaefer’s vehicle. While driving to the installation, he said Aguigui called him and accused him of trying to “sabotage” him. They argued on the phone. Schaefer said he reported to his supervisor, and then drove back to meet Aguigui, where the argument resumed.
He said he was angry enough at this point to ask him what he already suspected. He wanted to know what really happened to Deirdre Aguigui, who was about seven months pregnant when she died.
“He told me he cuffed her, put a bag over her head, then strangled her,” Schaefer said. “He also told me he sodomized her as he did this. ... He seemed to be bragging. He was almost smiling.”
Schaefer told the government attorney he was scared because Aguigui told him he had been helping him spend his wife’s insurance money and that they had talked about Aguigui killing his wife before he did it. Schaefer said that when Aguigui got the rest of the insurance money — $700,000 — he bragged some more.
“He said, ‘I told you I’d get away with it,’” Schaefer said. “He said if he goes down, I’d go down with him. ... I felt trapped.”
Schaefer said he attempted to commit suicide and was confined to the mental-health ward at Winn Army Community Hospital. He said he thought he was going to be charged as an accessory to the murder if Aguigui was ever charged, so he didn’t report this information to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command during last year’s Article 32 hearing or during the hearings in November and December 2013.
The defense attorney asked Schaefer if he was at the Aguiguis’ apartment the night Deirdre died. When he replied “no,” the attorney told him that he, therefore, was not involved. He then asked Schaefer again why he didn’t report this new information before. Schaefer told him he didn’t have immunity at the time and needed to protect himself.
Other witnesses called Monday corroborated that Aguigui had made comments about killing his wife and was an abusive husband who frequently called her foul names. Jessica Velez told the court that Aguigui talked about shooting his wife with a shotgun. He lived with Velez and her husband while the Aguiguis were separated.
Stephanie Van Riper, a former victim’s advocate for Winn ACH, told the court that Deirdre Aguigui had filed a complaint through her office that her husband had abused her verbally, physically and sexually. Military Judge Col. Andrew J. Glass deliberated through the lunch hour to determine whether Van Riper’s testimony was relevant to the case. He later told the court he had decided to admit her testimony as evidence.
Aguigui already is serving two life sentences for murders he committed off-post as the leader of FEAR, an anti-government militia.