Why you may never see video of Vanessa Guillen's killer in his last moments

BySteve Campion KTRK logo
Monday, March 15, 2021
Why you may never see Vanessa Guillen's killer's last moments
The City of Killeen is refusing to release body cam video. "Why hide this evidence?," asked the family's attorney. "Justice for Vanessa includes accountability, legislation and goo

KILLEEN, Texas -- The public will likely never see the final moments of Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen's accused killer's run from the law, unless state law changes in Texas.

Investigators accused Army Spc. Aaron Robinson of bludgeoning Guillen to death with a hammer on April 22, 2020, at Fort Hood.

SEE RELATED STORY: Army officials reveal new details in Vanessa Guillen case

Law enforcement officers tried to arrest him a couple of months later on June 30.

At the time, they claimed Robinson fled the infamous base in Killeen and committed suicide when officers tried to take him into custody.

Eyewitness News learned cruiser video and body-worn camera video captured part of the exchange. The City of Killeen refuses to release the taxpayer-funded video to the public. The city's attorney cites what's become known as the "dead suspect loophole" of the Texas Public Information Act. They're now asking the Office of the Attorney General to sign off on their denial of our public records request.

The exception allows police departments to hide the video from the public if no charge or a conviction happens in the case. In the case of Robinson, he's dead so charges or a conviction is impossible in criminal court.

Kelley Shannon is the executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation. Shannon said lawmakers designed the provision to protect the innocent, not to give police departments a tool to hide information. She said the provision is not being used for what it was intended.

"There's a loophole in the Texas Public Information Act that is being misused and even abused by law enforcement across the state in many cases. It allows records to be withheld if the case never ended in a conviction or a deferred adjudication like it went to court. The problem is when someone dies in custody or at the hands of police, they're not going to be tried and convicted because they're dead," said Shannon. "The thing is, this part of the law is being abused. It was really set up to protect the innocent like somebody who was arrested and maybe charges were dropped so that this false arrest doesn't follow them around their whole life. It's never been intended for what it is being used. My take is there is an effort by certain law enforcement agencies to try and find ways to hide information from the public."

SEE RELATED: Vanessa Guillen: Timeline offers look at tragedy and legacy of Ft. Hood soldier

Shannon said it is imperative the law is changed to help in the name of police accountability, transparency and open government. She hopes lawmakers will close the "dead suspect loophole" during this legislative session.

"I hear from so many families that are just trying to get the information so that they can have closure about how their loved one died," said Shannon. "We, the public, need the information to hold police accountable. To make sure if it is a bad situation and it was wrongly handled, that it doesn't happen again. Or if it was correctly handled, it gives us trust in law enforcement. It works both ways."

Texas State Rep. Joe Moody wants the "dead suspect loophole" ended in the state. He introduced a bill to do so and said there is bipartisan support to close the loophole.

"I believe very strongly in public access to government records. The Public Information Act is very clear. It says that government doesn't get to decide what's good for us to know and what's not good for us to know. Sometimes, the ugliest cases - and they may be difficult to look at - are the ones that we do need access to so that we can understand what's happening," said Moody. "So if there's an issue, we can address it. We shouldn't shield conduct."

Moody said too often law enforcement agencies are using the loophole to avoid public review. He said the provision wasn't designed to give these agencies such broad power to avoid releasing public records.

"Shining a light in these corners is actually a good thing for law enforcement and the public at large. Public information law is a benefit to the community and to the taxpayer," said Moody. "They don't have to rise this exception. The default setting is to release. They actually have to avail themselves of this. My guess is they're afraid of liability. They're afraid something bad happened here. They don't want to be liable for it. They don't want to open that door."

Members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee will provide testimony Tuesday afternoon to Congressional members about their findings and recommendations for the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigative Division. The review came after sustained outrage about the Army's handling of Guillen's disappearance and murder.

"The Guillen family along with the American people, and taxpayers, want and deserve to know the truth," said Natalie Khawam, the family's attorney. "The purpose of the body video camera is to have accountability and transparency. We understand that the suspect, Aaron Robinson, supposedly committed suicide when they went to arrest him. The body cam video will prove or disprove this story. So why hide this evidence? We believe in transparency, especially when victims and their family's request the video. Justice for Vanessa includes accountability, legislation and good public policy, so what happened to Vanessa never happens again!"

Continue to follow the case with a series of stories from ABC13's Steve Campion, including the investigation from the beginning when she disappeared. Watch it all on demand in the ABC13 Houston app on your favorite streaming devices, like Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and GoogleTV.

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