Autopsy for Hania Aguilar indicates the teenager likely died from “asphyxia”

State - Regional

An autopsy report released by the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office states Hania Aguilar’s exact cause of death was uncertain. However, the report states she likely died from some type of suffocation or strangulation.

Investigators believe a man kidnapped 13-year-old Hania Aguilar from the Rosewood Mobile Home Park in Lumberton on the morning of November 5, 2018. Her body was found off Wire Grass Road south of Lumberton on November 27. Michael Ray McLellan, 34, of Fairmont, is charged in the kidnapping and murder of Aguilar.

He faces at least 10 felony charges in the case. A former detective and the former chief of detectives at the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office no longer work for the department after an investigation into DNA that linked McLellan to an unrelated case.

The investigative report for the medical examiner says Aguilar’s body was found in a wooded area under a broken plastic table with a tire on top of the table.  The autopsy report says her naked body was in a water-filled pit approximately 4 1/2 ft deep. She was reported to be face down unclad with a plastic folding table on her back.

The official cause of death was written as homicidal violence of undetermined means.

Other details confirmed Aguilar had an injury consistent with a sexual assault. There was otherwise minimal evidence of trauma. There was also insufficient trauma, toxicology findings, or natural disease to explain death, according to the report.

The examiner noted that the circumstances indicated a death by homicide and that without any other obvious sign about what caused Aguilar’s death, the means of death was most likely a form of asphyxia, which in some circumstances may leave only subtle or even no findings detectable, especially after decompositions occurs.

Potential mechanisms of asphyxia may have included neck pressure/strangulation, external obstruction of the airway, internal obstruction of the airway (as by gag), mechanical means (compression, weighting, or restriction of chest movement), or other possibilities, as well as combinations thereof, the report continued.

The Robeson County District Attorney is now compiling a case against McLellan. D.A. Matt Scott has not said yet whether he will pursue the death penalty in the case.

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