RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- The defense and prosecution handling a double murder case in Riley County involving a mother and child continue to prepare for an upcoming murder trial.
A pretrial hearing was held in Riley County District Court Friday, May 11, 2012 for 24-year-old Luis Aguirre.
Aguirre could face the death penalty if convicted of the 2009 murder of his girlfriend, 18-year-old Tonya 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 got underway, 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. Prosecutors indicated that the murders took place in Ogden and during the lapse between the deaths of Tonya 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, Tonya and their son had become an “albatross.” Tonya 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.
During Friday’s pretrial hearing, Aguirre’s attorney, Jeffrey Wicks, along with Riley County Assistant Attorney Barry Disney and Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson discussed several motions in the case. Judge Meryl Wilson is overseeing the proceedings.
One of the motions dealt with the search of Aguirre’s storage shed after the killings. Disney says after the bodies of Tonya and Juan were discovered in Ogden and identified, authorities made the connection to Aguirre and went to Austin, Texas to interview him where he told them that he put his son’s belongings in a storage unit. Police obtained a search warrant on October 29th, 2009 for the shed and searched for DNA, clothing, personal items and trace evidence. The defense argued that police took whatever they wanted and grossly exceeded the scope of the search warrant, making no effort to determine whether any of the items actually belonged to Tonya and Juan. Wicks added that the search and seizure was a “general warrant” and therefore, anything that was taken should be suppressed so that it can’t be used as evidence during Aguirre’s trial. Disney says detectives took only seven pieces of clothing and 50 other items that are considered trace evidence (hair, fibers). After interviewing Aguirre again, officers went back to the storage shed on November 2, 2009 and took a black duffel back as well.
Judge Wilson said the search warrant on October 29th was valid since police did not have any information about the clothing Tonya and Juan might have been wearing on or around the time they were killed. Their bodies were found unclothed in the grave. The judge, however, did agree to suppress any items seized in the black duffel bag on November 2nd, saying police were not authorized to take the bag.
Judge Wilson also ruled to allow photos of Tonya and Juan taken when they were alive as well as autopsy and crime scene pictures to be shown to the jury during Aguirre’s trial. The defense argued that the pictures could bias jurors and sway them against Aguirre but the state said the photos will be used by their expert witnesses to identify the victims and support their findings and observations when they take the stand during the trial. Judge Wilson said the pictures were not repetitious and that every murder trial has gruesome photos that are necessary to show the jury how the victim or victims were found.
Luis Aguirre's trial is set to begin on June 5, 2012 with jury selection. Opening statements and testimony are expected to get underway June 18. It could last up to four weeks.
He is being held in the Riley County Jail on $2.5 million bond.