RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- During their opening statements on Monday, the prosecution and defense painted very different pictures of accused killer Luis Aguirre, 24.
Aguirre is charged with capital murder in the September 2009 deaths of his ex-girlfriend, 18-year-old Tanya Maldonado and the couple’s 13-month-old, son Juan.
Testimony began Monday at the Riley County Courthouse.
The bodies of Tanya and Juan were discovered in late October 2009 by a hunter in a shallow grave east of Ogden. At first, authorities thought there was only one adult in the grave but the remains of a child were also found.
Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson says 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. 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 say Aguirre planned the murders, even digging the grave in a remote area ahead of time. They told the jury he wanted to get rid of Tanya and Juan so that he could move on with his life and his new love. Before the the bodies of the victims were discovered, he had relocated to Austin, Texas where he was staying with Dulce Mendez's family.
Riley County investigators traveled to Texas to question him once they had identified Tanya and Juan. When the hunter found their remains, an arm was sticking out of the grave and before police began the exhumation process, the appendage was removed at the elbow and taken to the KBI lab in Topeka where fingerprint examiners were able to find a match to Tanya's fingerprints that had previously been processed in Chicago when she was alive and entered into the federal database.
Wilkerson says when Aguirre was questioned by investigators, he provided them with several different versions of what happened inside the apartment on 8th Street in Ogden. At first, detectives didn't tell Aguirre that the grave had been located and he was led to believe that Tanya was missing. Aguirre admitted to having an intimate relationship with her and that they had a child together but said Tanya had never been to Kansas and in their last email exchange, she had mentioned going to California to visit a relative and get help raising her baby. Aguirre begged police to find out the whereabouts of Juan.
When investigators confronted Aguirre and said they knew that Tanya had been in Kansas, Wilkerson says he told them that Tanya did show up in Kansas after getting a ride from another man. When he told her they weren't getting back together, she cried and then left for California.
Then, the detectives confronted Aguirre about Tanya's death. 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 toddler asleep, somewhat hanging off his 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.
Wilkerson says the state will present emails showing Tanya's growing resentment, and anger towards Aguirre, especially after having to spend a night on a porch with her son because they didn't have anywhere else to go or any help from him. Aguirre then told Tanya that he wanted to "fix the situation" and that he had been transferred back to Chicago and had signed up for Section 8 housing. Meanwhile, he had just received a promise ring from Dulce Mendez for his birthday.
According to the county attorney, Aguirre had made promises to two separate women and Tanya and Juan were keeping him from moving on. In the end, Aguirre only had one woman to keep his promise to because Tanya and Juan were dead. Wilkerson asked jurors to work to determine if this is a case of premeditated murder or two "unfortuitous" deaths.
But the defense says Aguirre was trying to help Tanya get back on her feet and that he never intended for two people that he cared about to die.
Tim Frieden, Aguirre's attorney, pointed out that Aguirre has a daughter from another relationship and he helped support her. Frieden says Aguirre tried to assist Tanya by offering to put Juan on his insurance, offering to take care of him while she searched for work and offering to set up a bank account to help get them money. When he went to Chicago for his National Guard drills, he knew that Tanya and Juan were in a "dire situation" so he picked them up and brought them to Kansas to help provide Tanya with opportunities. When talking about the fight in the kitchen, Frieden says Aguirre wanted to stop Tanya's outburst and in the heat of an argument, she ended up dying. Then, he found Juan face down on his pillow, dead.
Frieden says Tanya may have had a pre-existing medical condition involving seizures and that Juan may have had a cold at the time of his death from living in the homeless shelter.
Frieden says Aguirre was scared to call 911 because he didn’t think he would be believed and he panicked, hastily digging a grave and placing Juan in Tanya’s arms. Aguirre, Frieden says, never meant for them to die and their deaths were not planned. He says Aguirre regrets not calling 911 and in a written statement, he said that he ended the lives of two souls and it will haunt him forever.
As jurors continue to hear testimony and evidence, it will be their job to determine if Tanya and Juan’s deaths were the result of premeditated murder. If convicted of capital murder, he could face the death penalty.
The trial continues Tuesday at the Riley County Courthouse. District Court Judge Meryl Wilson is presiding over the trial.
Aguirre remains in custody. He's pleaded not guilty to capital murder.