- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

FORT STEWART, Ga. (AP) - An autopsy failed to reveal whether an attack, illness or some other cause killed a pregnant Army soldier whose husband is charged with killing her, a military medical examiner testified Tuesday.

Sgt. Deirdre Aguigui, 24, was about seven months pregnant when she died July 17, 2011, at the apartment she and her husband shared on Fort Stewart. Now Pvt. Isaac Aguigui is on trial before a court-martial on charges that he murdered her and caused the death of their unborn child. A murder conviction would mean an automatic life sentence.

Two days after Deirdre Aguigui died, an autopsy conducted at the southeast Georgia Army post found bruises on her wrists, arms, head and back, as well as bruising inside her mouth. But there was nothing to indicate what caused most of the injuries and none were fatal, said Lt. Cmdr. Lisa Rivera, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy. Rivera found no telltale signs of illness, allergies or toxins. She even ruled out rare disorders linked to pregnancy such as bubbles in the blood and infections of the uterus.

Rivera’s testimony sets up a case of dueling expert opinions that could prove be key to the trial, which will be decided by a military judge instead of a jury. Prosecutors charged Isaac Aguigui with murdering his wife last year after a Georgia state medical examiner offered a second opinion and concluded his wife died from asphyxiation while being choked or smothered. Dr. James Downs was scheduled to testify later.

“In my opinion, while there are a constellation of blunt force injuries, I did not find definitive evidence of asphyxia in this case or any other cause of anatomic death,” said Rivera, who insisted she couldn’t even determine if the woman was killed or died from natural causes.

A former Army buddy testified Monday that Aguigui told him that he handcuffed his wife during sex and suffocated her by putting a plastic bag over her head. Rivera said deep bruises on the woman’s wrists appeared consistent with handcuffs found on her bed.

Meanwhile, Army prosecutors spent much of the second day of 22-year-old Aguigui’s court-martial Tuesday trying to establish a motive. They say the soldier from Cashmere, Wash., received $500,000 in insurance and benefit payments from the Army after his wife died.

Samantha Thacker, a former girlfriend, said she met Aguigui in the summer 2010 and was still in close contact a year later. Thacker testified Aguigui sent her text messages the day his wife died.

“One of them said he was coming into a lot of money and I would never have to work,” Thacker said on the witness stand. She said when she later learned Aguigui’s wife was dead, he said she was killed in a car crash.

Aguigui has pleaded not guilty. Under questioning by his defense attorneys, Thacker noted Aguigui’s text message didn’t specifically mention his wife or insurance money.

Army investigators say Aguigui told them he woke up from a nap to find his wife dead on the couch.

Military police found a pair of handcuffs on the couple’s bed, along with a number of sex toys. Aguigui told them he had cuffed his wife during consensual sex earlier in the evening, before he nodded off for a nap, said Justin Kapinus, the Army’s lead investigator on the case.

“He stated that she enjoyed being tied up and that night they used the handcuffs,” Kapinus said. “He said she enjoyed having her hands behind her back and laying on the handcuffs.”

Aguigui is already serving a sentence of life without parole in a Georgia state prison after he pleaded guilty last year in a double slaying that occurred nearly five months after his wife’s death. Civilian prosecutors say he used the $500,000 in insurance money to buy guns and bomb-making parts for an anti-government militia group that Aguigui formed by recruiting disgruntled soldiers. Civilian authorities say Aguigui ordered the deaths of former soldier Michael Roark and his girlfriend, Tiffany York, in December 2011 to protect the group and its plans.

Aguigui and three other soldiers were jailed about a week after Roark and York were shot to death in rural Long County near Fort Stewart. More than a year passed before the Army charged Aguigui in his wife’s death.

Pfc. Michael Burnett has also pleaded guilty in the deaths of Roark and York. The two soldiers accused of firing the killing shots - Pvt. Christopher Salmon and Pfc. Michael Burnett - are still awaiting trial.

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