A convicted sex offender pleaded guilty Wednesday to raping and killing a Richland baby, a little more than a year after the girl was found lifeless in her crib.
Jose Luis Aguilar was set to stand trial next week in Benton County Superior Court in connection with the death of Serenity Jade Reedy, his former girlfriend’s 9-month-old daughter.
The Richland man decided to plead guilty as charged to second-degree murder and first-degree child rape.
Aguilar, 37, also pleaded guilty to two aggravating circumstances — that Serenity was too young to defend herself and the crime had a destructive impact on other people.
Prosecutors are asking for a sentence of 40 years, which is above the standard range for Aguilar’s crimes. Aguilar could spend the rest of his life in prison if a parole board decides he is a threat to the community.
Prosecutor Andy Miller was confident a jury would convict Aguilar if the case went to trial and was not willing to make a plea deal, he said. Miller told the Herald that he spoke with the Reedy family Tuesday and notified them of Aguilar’s intent to plead guilty.
“I think the main goal of the family and us was that we were not going to reduce any charges, and that we weren’t going to back off the recommended over the top sentence,” he said.
Aguilar told Judge Robert Swisher that he was emotional and fighting back tears as he entered his pleas next to his attorney Shelley Ajax.
Ajax declined to talk after the almost hourlong hearing.
Swisher read Aguilar’s account of what happened to Serenity hours before her mother, Jennifer Reedy, found her cold to the touch and purple June 7.
Aguilar wrote in his plea statement that Serenity fell from his arms against the wall after she vomited while the two were dancing. He wrote in court documents that he failed to get her medical help after the fall.
Miller and police officials who investigated the case don’t believe Aguilar’s story, pointing to overwhelming evidence that the girl was sexually abused and assaulted.
An autopsy showed Serenity had at least two skull fractures, hemorrhaging around her eyes and a cut to her vaginal area, according to court documents. Miller said a key part of his case was two medical experts who determined and were willing to testify the cut was an indication that Serenity was sexually abused.
“My theory is that the defendant sexually abused Serenity. She started crying, and he panicked after he was worried that the sexual abuse was going to be discovered,” Miller said. “I don’t buy his story about the vomiting and throwing against the wall. I think he either hit her or slammed her against the wall on at least two different occasions.”
Aguilar, a registered Level 1 sex offender, was convicted in 1998 of indecent solicitation of a child in Ford County, Kan., records show. A Level 1 offender is considered the least likely to reoffend.
Aguilar fled the house hours before Serenity was found dead. He reportedly stole cash and a car from his former girlfriend and headed to California. Prosecutors believe Aguilar was headed to Mexico.
Richland police detectives were able to track the GPS in Aguilar’s cellphone to a bus stop in Barstow, Calif. They found Aguilar on a Greyhound bus.
Aguilar initially admitted to physically and sexually abusing Serenity, but later recanted, Miller said. He eventually was extradited to Benton County.
Miller credited Richland police for their hard work to ensure he had more than enough evidence to convict Aguilar if the case had gone to trial.
Sgt. Kevin Berger told the Herald that the case was especially difficult for a team of detectives to investigate because Serenity was so young and couldn’t defend herself.
“It’s one of the harder ones when who have a child victim that is completely innocent,” he said.
The Reedy family was emotional during Wednesday’s hearing as Miller had to put on the record some unpleasant details about the case. Kathy Inglis, Serenity’s grandmother, told the Herald that it was too soon and too difficult for the family to talk about the case.
Family members plan to speak at a sentencing hearing tentatively scheduled for September, she said.
-- Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Ty_richardson