RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- Convicted killer Luis Aguirre will spend the rest of his life in prison after suffocating his ex-girlfriend and son inside his Ogden apartment and burying their bodies.
Aguirre, 24, was formally sentenced in Riley County District Court Tuesday, marking the conclusion of a case that's spanned nearly three years. Officials say it was the first capital murder trial in Riley County in decades. His attorney read a statement during the hearing on Aguirre's behalf. In the statement, Aguirre quoted Martin Luther King Jr. saying: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
On June 22, 2012, Aguirre, was found guilty of the 2009 murders of 18-year-old Tanya Maldonado and the couple’s 13-month-old son Juan. The verdict came after a week of testimony.
On Monday, July 9, 2012, the second part of the trial got underway at the Riley County Courthouse in downtown Manhattan for jurors to decide whether Aguirre should receive the death penalty or life in prison without parole. They could not come to a unanimous decision on the death penalty so they recommended Aguirre receive a life sentence.
The bodies of Tanya and Juan were discovered in late October 2009 in a shallow grave east of Ogden.
Roughly a month earlier, Aguirre brought Tanya and Juan to Ogden to the apartment where he was living with his new girlfriend, Dulce Mendez. Mendez was stationed at Fort Riley and was deployed to Iraq when the killings took place. Tanya and Juan had been living in Chicago in a homeless shelter and were desperate for support, prosecutors said. Aguirre was also originally from Chicago and was in the National Guard. During training in Alabama, he met Mendez and moved to Ogden to live with her and her 18-month-old son. Prosecutors allege that Aguirre planned the murders and killed Tanya and Juan so he could move on with Dulce Mendez. But the defense says he was trying to help his ex and son get back on their feet and that he never intended for them to die.
Aguirre said on the weekend of September 19 and 20, 2009, he had drill for the National Guard in Chicago and ended up meeting up with Tanya near the mission where she was staying with their son. Aguirre says he wanted to see how she was doing because he knew she was having trouble. He was just going to give her a ride to a friend’s house or relative’s house but she told him she wanted to go with him back to Kansas. He says Tanya wanted to start fresh and find a job and get away from her family and maybe meet a nice guy in the military. Aguirre told her about his current girlfriend, who was deployed. He was going to let Tanya and Juan stay with him for a few days until they found another place to stay.
Aguirre told the investigators that in the midst of an argument and struggle in the kitchen, he covered Tanya’s mouth for five minutes to stop her from yelling and he didn't realize that he was also covering her nose. After she stopped kicking and moving, Aguirre says he thought she had calmed down and let her go. She started spitting up blood and he tried to revive her with chest compressions but she died.
When he went to check on his son so he wouldn't wander into the kitchen and see what had happened with his mother, Aguirre says he found the toddler asleep, somewhat hanging off the baby bed. Aguirre says he tucked Juan in tightly and later found him face down on a pillow with a pacifier in his mouth and he could not be revived.
Aguirre told the detectives that his anxiety and fear kicked in and his first reaction was to try to hide what had happened so he drove around for a while not knowing what to do and ended up burying Tanya and Juan. He said the whole situation was an accident and he knew he should have called 911. He insisted that no one helped him and that he didn’t tell anyone else about what happened. He was also adamant that he did not plan the killings and did not know about the spot where he buried the victims ahead of time.
During the first phase of the trial, jurors heard testimony from Dr. Spencer Tomb, a longtime Kansas State University professor and botanist. Tomb was asked by authorities to examine the shallow grave outside of Ogden where the victims were found on, examining the plant matter found directly under their remains and around the grave site. Tanya and Juan Maldonado were killed on September 21, 2009 and buried in the early morning hours of September 22, 2009. A hunter discovered the grave roughly a month later on October 25, 2009. Tomb told the jury during his testimony that based on the build up of leaflets at the bottom of the grave, he believes it was dug several days before the victims were buried, remaining open for a "significant" period of time before their bodies were placed inside. The testimony supported the state’s stance that the murders were premeditated.
Officials say Aguirre will be assessed to determine which prison he'll go to.
After the formal sentencing hearing, Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson told 13 News: "We're glad that we can put this case behind us and that we got justice for Tanya and Juan Maldonado. Mr. Aguirre will spend the rest of his life in prison and will not pose a danger to anyone else. We're very satisfied with the outcome of this case."