RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- In Riley County, prosecutors continue to present their case against 24-year-old Luis Aguirre.
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.
The bodies of Tanya and Juan were discovered in late October 2009 by a hunter in a shallow grave east of Ogden.
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.
In court Wednesday, Aguirre’s interview with police on November 3, 2009 was played for the jury. Aguirre had already been placed under arrest.
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 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.
In court Wednesday, Aguirre wiped away tears as Dr. Erik Mitchell took the stand Wednesday to testify and as autopsy photos of the victims were shown to the jury. Mitchell is a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies on Tanya and Juan.
Mitchell says he could not tell exactly how the victims died because of the lapse in time before they died and when their bodies were found. Animals had also disturbed their remains. Mitchell told the jury he found evidence of blunt force trauma on Tanya’s chest consistent with injuries he’s seen in major falls and in people who have been hit by a car. He also found hemorrhaging on Juan’s chest that was similar to his mother’s injuries but not as severe. He said he did not find any injuries consistent with CPR being performed on the victims but admitted that compressions still could have been done on them.
Mitchell refuted the explanations Aguirre provided for their deaths. He said that in Tanya’s case, if a person is deprived of oxygen by someone holding their hand over the victim’s nose and mouth for a period of time, the victim would pass out and when the hand was removed, oxygen would return and the victim would simply wake up. In Juan’s situation, Mitchell said tightly tucking in blankets around a child would not put enough tension on the child to kill them. He said a 13-month-old sleeping face down on a mattress with a pacifier in his mouth was not a “possible cause of death.” Mitchell told the jury that the deaths of Tanya and Juan were not accidental.
The defense pointed out that Mitchell had not received medical records pertaining to the victims showing that Juan had been sick for several months and that Tanya was suffering from high blood pressure and chest pains. Mitchell said those conditions would not change his findings and didn’t have anything to do with what happened. In Juan’s case he also threw out the possibility of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Mitchell said the statistical likelihood of two young people dying nearly simultaneously is very small.
Luis Aguirre’s trial continues Thursday at the Riley County Courthouse.