RILEY COUNTY, Kan (WIBW) -- The state has rested its case in the capital murder trial in Riley County for Luis Aguirre, the man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and son in Ogden and burying their bodies. On Thursday, jurors heard the testimony of a key witness for the prosecution.
Riley County prosecutors are trying to prove that the deaths of 18-year-old Tanya Maldonado and 13-month-old Juan Maldonado were planned by the defendant, 24-year-old Luis Aguirre. They called on an expert to help add weight to their theory.
After several days of testimony, the last witness the prosecution called to the stand was 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 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.
He said that if someone went out and quickly dug a hole and buried something, you would not see a bed of leaves at the bottom like he found under the victims. When asked by the defense if the leaves could have blown into the grave by the wind just before the bodies were placed inside, Tomb said he would have seen more of a mixture of leaves but found mostly leaflets from the limbs of a box elder tree that were directly above grave that fell over time. He estimated that the grave was 4-6 weeks old and that it was most likely open for 3-4 days before the bodies of the victims were buried.
The testimony supports the state’s stance that the murders were premeditated. The prosecution says Aguirre wanted to move on with his new girlfriend but Tanya and Juan were holding him back. The jury saw emails from Tanya Maldonado on Thursday begging Aguirre to help support their son.
Aguirre and his defense team have maintained that the deaths at his Ogden apartment were accidents and that he panicked, hastily burying their bodies. He says he never meant for his ex-girlfriend and son to die.
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 wanted 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 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.
Officials say that in order for Aguirre to be convicted of capital murder, the jury must find him guilty of 1st degree premeditated murder in connection with both deaths.
The trial continues Friday at the Riley County courthouse.