LUDOWICI, Ga. (AP) — A prosecutor says he will seek the death penalty against three Georgia-based soldiers, including Isaac Aguigui of Cashmere, who are accused of killing two people to protect an anti-government militia.
District Attorney Tom Durden announced in Long County Superior Court on Thursday that he will seek the death penalty for Army private Aguigui, 19, Sgt. Anthony Peden, 25 and Pvt. Christopher Salmon, 25.
The three Fort Stewart enlisted men were arraigned this morning on charges of malice murder, felony murder and criminal gang activity in the Dec. 4 slayings of former soldier Michael Roark and his girlfriend, 17-year-old Tiffany York.
Prosecutors in rural Long County say the soldiers were part of a militia operating within the U.S. Army that was stockpiling weapons and wanted to overthrow the federal government. Pvt. Michael Burnett, a fellow conspirator who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case Monday, identified Aguigui as the ringleader.
The death penalty enhancement is filed under a Georgia law passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. It allows juries to consider the death penalty against someone found to commit or conspire to commit an act of domestic terrorism.
Video below from WSAV-TV in Savannah shows Aguigui entering court to be read the charges.
As Peden attended Thursday’s court hearing, York’s stepfather, Wesley Thomas, tried to rush the defense table, and at least four deputies and officers wrestled Thomas to the floor and handcuffed him.
In his Monday court pleading, Burnett, 26, had named Peden as the man who shot York in the head last December.
Prosecutors believe the men acted to protect the radical militia they’d created within Fort Stewart, dubbed FEAR, an acronym for “Forever Enduring Always Ready.” Aguigui recruited fellow soldiers for the cause, Burnett testified.
“It started out with just going out shooting guns, just guy stuff,” Burnett told Long County Superior Court Judge Robert L. Russell III on Monday. “And then he introduced me to ‘The Manuscript’ was what he called it — a book about true patriots.”
Agugui dubbed the group FEAR and described it as a force “to give the government back to the people,” Burnett said.
“You talked about revolution?” Russell asked.
“Yeah. Patriotism,” Burnett said.
Georgia assistant district attorney Isabel Pauley said the group’s plans included blowing up an unspecified dam in Aguigui’s native Washington, or failing that, introducing poison into the state’s apple crop. At Fort Stewart, they plotted to seize control of the base’s ammunition supply and blow up a landmark Savannah fountain, Pauley said.
Their most far-reaching goal, according to Pauley: The murder of President Barack Obama.
The group amassed firearms and explosive components to further their ends, Pauley said. The money for their project came from a $500,000 settlement Aguigui received after the death of his pregnant wife in July 2011.
Wenatchee police learned that Aguigui legally bought 15 firearms from a Wenatchee gun store while at home on leave last September .
Roark left the Army Dec. 2, apparently knowing of the FEAR group’s plans. Burnett testified the group lured Roark and York to a wooded area near Morgan Lake, a preserve in southwestern Long County. There, Peden shot York and Salmon shot former soldier Roark execution-style, forcing him to kneel before firing, Burnett said. The group acted on orders from Aguigui, according to his testimony.
The murdered couple were found by fishermen early Dec. 5. Aguigui and the three other soldiers were arrested later that month and charged with premeditated murder in a military court last March, but the Army dropped those charges as the state case went forward.
Aguigui was home schooled in Cashmere and competed as a swimmer for Eastmont High School. He identified with the Republican Party, and attended an American Legion Boys Nation 2008 session held in Washington, D.C. He completed his home education in 2009 and graduated from basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C. the following year.
He met his future wife, Deirdre Wetzker, while attending the U.S. Military Academy Prep School at West Point. He did not go on to become an officer, instead joining the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, where his wife was also stationed until her death.
World staff writer Jefferson Robbins contributed to this report.