Appeals court upholds murder conviction

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Aguilar Aguilar

SPOKANE — A state appeals court has upheld convictions and a 39-year prison sentence for a Desert Aire man who was found guilty in 2016 of murdering his ex-girlfriend and hiding her body in Grant County’s Buckshot Wildlife Area.

Jose Abilio Aguilar Aguilar, 40, was convicted of first-degree murder, with an aggravating factor of egregious lack of remorse, in the 2012 murder of 42-year-old Carmelita Lopez Santos. He was also convicted of the second-degree assault of a man to whom Aguilar Aguilar confessed the murder. The trial court imposed an exceptional sentence of 472 months in prison.

Aguilar Aguilar argued there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of premeditation, which is a necessary element of first-degree murder, the state committed misconduct by delaying discovery of evidence and amending the charges multiple times, improperly forcing him to choose between his constitutional speedy trial right and his right to effective counsel, and that the prosecutor committed misconduct by including his personal opinion into closing arguments.

Aguilar Aguilar also argued that, when taken cumulatively, these errors were sufficient to warrant a reversal of his convictions. The Washington Court of Appeals, Division III, in an unpublished opinion, rejected each argument and upheld the lower court’s decision.

On Oct. 16, 2012, a hunter discovered the body of Carmelita Lopez Santos in a secluded wooded area approximately 100-yards from the Buckshot Wildlife Area parking lot in southern Grant County, according to court documents. Lopez had been shot multiple times in her face, neck, and torso.

In the days following the murder, the victim’s family members and friends received several telephone calls from her cell phone. At one point, the caller stated that the new boyfriend of Lopez, who had broken up recently with Aguilar Aguilar, was asking him for money to release Lopez. A family member of Lopez later confirmed after hearing Aguilar Aguilar’s voice that he was the person who had been calling them on Lopez’ cellphone.

During the investigation, Aguilar Aguilar’s housemate told law enforcement the suspect had confessed to the murder after seeing a newspaper article about Lopez’ death. Aguilar Aguilar later became fearful the housemate would turn him in and threatened to kill him, according to court documents.

Aguilar Aguilar confessed to his housemate he had shot Lopez near his car, that she was still alive after that initial shot, and that he took her “to the brush,” where he covered her body with tree branches, according to court documents. If Aguilar Aguilar serves the remainder of his sentence, he will not be released until late-2055.

Emry Dinman can be reached via email at edinman@columbiabasinherald.com.

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