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February 15, 2019

Death of 13-year-old Hania Aguilar was most likely caused by asphyxia

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The cause of death of 13-year-old Hania Aguilar was determined to be either suffocation or strangulation based on an autopsy report released on Wednesday. 

Aguilar was kidnapped and murdered in North Carolina in November 2018. She most likely died from a "form of asphyxia," the autopsy report read. Additionally, she was sexually assaulted before her abductor hid her body in water. 

Michael Ray McLellan is charged with the young girl's rape and murder. He allegedly picked her up from near her trailer park on November 5 as she waited for a ride from a relative to reach school.

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A search party looked for Aguilar over a number of days, while detectives followed over 800 leads and interviewed more than 400 people. 

They finally retrieved her body in late November, 12 miles away from where she disappeared. She lay naked within four feet of water underneath a plastic folding table. 

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Part of the autopsy report read: 

“Due in part to limitations imposed by decomposition, the autopsy did not elucidate a specific mechanism of death. However, the totality of the circumstances and findings ... indicate death by homicidal violence.”

During the investigation, McLellan's DNA also connected him to a rape kit of 2016. He willingly went in at that time. As a result, he was already in custody when detectives went to make the arrest.

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This situation also led to the firing of one investigator in the Robeson County Sheriff's Office while another resigned.

County District Attorney Johnson Britt later discussed the 2016 case, saying that it could have been avoided if things were done properly in the first instance.

McLellan, 34, will attend a court hearing on April 2. He waits in prison and so far he has been denied bail on most of the 10 felonies in connection with Aguilar. If convicted, he might face the death penalty at sentencing.

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