Convicted killer Jose Luis Aguilar claimed Wednesday he wishes he’d done things differently with his then-girlfriend’s baby girl.
“I carry the burden of what happened to Serenity,” he said, wiping his eyes at the end of his six-minute statement. “I don’t know why I didn’t do things right. Every day I feel sorrow (for Serenity and her family). My heart aches.”
The 37-year-old Richland man likely will die behind bars after Judge Vic VanderSchoor gave him a maximum term of life in prison for sexually assaulting the 9-month-old victim in June 2013.
Aguilar re-ceived a 40-year minimum sentence in Benton County Superior Court for second-degree murder and first-degree rape of a child. That includes a mandatory term of 10 years and three months for the sex crime.
VanderSchoor was able to double the sentence for Aguilar — at the recommendation of prosecutors — because the murder charge included aggravating circumstances that Serenity Jade Reedy was too young to defend herself and the crime had a destructive effect on other people.
The girl’s father, grandmother and other relatives and family friends were in court Wednesday for Aguilar’s sentencing. Mother Jennifer Reedy attended previous court hearings, but recently left the Tri-Cities in an attempt to heal and move forward with her life.
Aguilar will have to serve the minimum ordered time before the state Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board will decide if he’s ready to be released.
The decision will be based on whether Aguilar — who would be in his mid-70s by then — has fully acknowledged his crimes, participated in treatment behind bars and is not at risk of committing a predatory sex offense.
Aguilar pleaded guilty in July to the murder charge, but entered an Alford plea to the rape. The Alford plea means he denied committing the crime but believed prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him at trial.
Aguilar and his defense attorney, Shelley Ajax, asked the judge Wednesday to consider a shorter sentence between 20 and 40 years.
Ajax said her client has taken responsibility and from the beginning “been honest with me about events that occurred that evening.”
Aguilar and Jennifer Reedy had been dating for about six months and lived together for two months before Serenity’s death.
Aguilar told investigators he’d had a lot to drink the evening of June 6, 2013, when Jennifer left the baby in his care while she went out to do laundry.
“I was very intoxicated. I was dancing and going in circles while holding the baby in my arms,” Aguilar wrote for his presentencing report and reiterated to the court Wednesday. “She began to vomit and it shocked me and I threw her up in the air. She hit on the wall and then the floor. I thought she’d be OK, but she was not the next day.”
He again denied raping Serenity.
Prosecutor Andy Miller and Richland police detectives have said they don’t believe Aguilar’s story, pointing to inconsistencies in his statements and overwhelming evidence that the girl was brutally assaulted and sexually abused.
“It was a horrific crime and we can only imagine the terror that Serenity went through,” Miller told the court. “The defendant’s conduct was already reprehensible, and it was of course made worse by the fact that he didn’t have the courage to stay.”
The girl’s lifeless body was found in her crib by her mother the morning of June 7, 2013. Aguilar had left the home in the middle of the night, and was believed headed to Mexico before his arrest in Southern California.
An autopsy showed the baby had at least two skull fractures, hemorrhaging around her eyes and a cut to her vaginal area. One of the depressed skull fractures reportedly was similar in size to the open end of a beer bottle recovered from the home.
Aguilar claims he has “to search awfully hard for all the answers” to what happened to Serenity that night. He said he prayed the baby would be OK, but said if given a second chance he would have called 911 and sought medical help.
“I cannot take back what happened. I cannot ask for forgiveness from anyone,” Aguilar told the court. He claims that when he left the home he was still drunk and didn’t know about Serenity’s injuries, but had “the worst feeling” in his gut.
“Serenity did not deserve to have me come into her life. I was not ready to be a responsible adult,” Aguilar said. “I was too wrapped up in alcohol and I knew I had a problem.”
“Please know that there’s nothing no one can do to me that I have not done to myself,” he added.
Aguilar already was a convicted sex offender for a 1998 Kansas crime involving indecent liberties to a victim who is incapable of consent. His criminal history also includes a second-degree assault in Kansas, and two failures to register as a sex offender in Benton County.
Kathy Inglis held a picture of her granddaughter Wednesday while stating they’ve missed two birthdays already and Aguilar still sits in jail.
“I will look at it ever day and she smiles at me and tries to make it better, but I will never have her back,” the grandmother sad. “I don’t think (Aguilar) should be out in society ever again.”
James Reedy, Serenity’s father, told the court that Aguilar has no respect for family or life.
“I’ve been through pain and trauma that nothing could have prepared me, and us, for this,” he said. “(Serenity) was the most precious of gifts that life has to offer.”
James Reedy said his view of and his faith in human beings is shaken, but his faith in justice still stands. He thanked the law enforcement officers for their outstanding effort in making sure the case had a just outcome.
“I deserve a chance to live and never again worry that this man will have the chance to (harm) any of our precious kids ever again,” he said.
Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer