RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- Jury selection is underway in Riley County in a double murder case involving a mother and child.
The process began Tuesday, June 5, 20120 at the Riley County courthouse. District Court Judge Meryl Wilson is presiding over the case.
Luis Aguirre, 24, could face the death penalty if convicted of the 2009 murder of his girlfriend, 18-year-old Tanya Maldonado, and the couple’s 13-month-old son Juan. He's pleaded not guilty to capital murder.
Police say Aguirre killed the mother and son around Sept. 19, 2009, then buried them in a shallow grave near Ogden. A hunter discovered their naked bodies more than a month later on Oct. 25th. At first, authorities thought Tonya was the only one in the grave but once the exhumation process began, her baby’s remains were also uncovered.
Aguirre moved to Ogden within a year of the killings. His girlfriend and son were from the Chicago area.
Riley County authorities arrested him in Austin, Texas on Oct. 30th, 2009. Prosecutors indicated that the murders took place in Ogden and during the lapse between the deaths of Tanya and Juan and when their bodies were discovered, Aguirre had relocated to Texas where he was living with his new girlfriend and her parents.
In a previous hearing, Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson shed light on what the state believes was the motive for the murder, saying that for Aguirre, Tanya and their son had become an “albatross.” Tanya delivered Juan in 2008 and Aguirre had moved to Ogden. She was desperate for money, living with her baby in a homeless shelter and needed money. She wanted a family and wanted Aguirre to support them. In late September 2009, prosecutors say Aguirre picked up his son and girlfriend from the homeless shelter and brought them to Ogden to the house where he was living with his new girlfriend and a short time later, they both ended up dead.
Authorities have never released how the mother and her baby were killed and Wilkerson only briefing touched on what the state believes happened, saying Aguirre claims it was all a “misfortunate accident during a struggle over tightening blankets too tightly.” But while Aguirre says he did not intend to kill them, Wilkerson says the state thinks their murders were premeditated. Wilkerson says Aguirre could not break free from his girlfriend and move on with his life, like joining the Army full time and the prospect of having to support them was hanging over him.
Aguirre’s attorney, Jeffrey Wicks, has declined to comment on the case until after the trial.
Prosecutors say 320 questionnaires were sent out to potential jurors. On May 29th, 2012, they were brought in to fill out the 24 page questionnaires so that the court could get a head start on their views on various issues involved in the case, including the death penalty. On Monday, June 5, 2012, the first panel consisting of 18 potential jurors was brought into Judge Wilson’s courtroom to talk about the questionnaires and their ability to serve on the jury. Panels of 18 potential jury members will continue to be brought in throughout the week until a pool of 42 is formed. Then, the prosecution and defense will each be able to strike 14 people from the pool, leaving them with 14- a 12 member jury and 2 alternates.
Opening statements and testimony are set to get underway June 18, 2012. The trial could last up to four weeks.
Aguirre is being held in the Riley County Jail on $2.5 million bond.
Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson says this is the first capital murder case tried in the county since the death penalty was reinstated in Kansas in the early 1990s. The state plans to call 20 witnesses to testify.