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updated: 1/10/2013 7:38 PM

Carjacking trial may proceed without missing engineer

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  • Michael Buhrman

      Michael Buhrman

 

A nuclear engineer accused of carjacking a woman at gunpoint could stand trial in DuPage County even though he's still missing.

Authorities have been looking for Michael Buhrman, 32, since his disappearance in September. Police say his Coal City home appeared "staged" to make it look as if he was abducted or otherwise met with foul play.

In court Thursday, prosecutors presented evidence suggesting Buhrman is "willfully absent." They asked Judge Kathryn Creswell to set his case for jury trial in March, at which point she could rule whether to move ahead if the defendant doesn't show.

Buhrman, a Navy veteran and former reactor operator at the Dresden nuclear power plant in downstate Morris, is accused of carjacking a woman in Woodridge in May.

Police went to his home on Sept. 28, 2012, after receiving an alert that his court-ordered GPS ankle monitor had been tampered with.

There, they found a small amount of blood and several empty boxes that may have once contained gold. Illinois State Police Sgt. Heather Poerio testified the house was orderly to the point of being "pristine," although two window screens had been slashed and some dresser and cabinet drawers were open.

"It looked very staged, like somebody wanted us to believe gold was taken and he was forcibly removed," she said. "I felt it was a probation violation."

Poerio noted nothing was disturbed under the windows where screens were cut, the contents of the open drawers remained orderly, and high-end electronics in the home were untouched. Police found a small bloodstain and broken lamp in the master bedroom, but Poerio said the evidence would be consistent with Buhrman losing his balance and cutting himself while slicing off the GPS with a sharp object.

Buhrman went missing three days after he withdrew $14,000 deposited into his checking account from a foreign source a day earlier, Woodridge Detective Jody Porras testified.

Porras said he contacted the FBI and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission because federal authorities at one time had Buhrman and "a few of his co-workers (at Dresden) under investigation" in connection with the carjacking, and Buhrman also was under investigation for "other crimes in the area."

Porras said U.S. Marshals determined a former co-worker of Buhrman's went to South America last year and has not returned.

Defense attorney Richard Blass declined to comment on his client but has said Buhrman may be a victim of foul play.

In court Thursday, he told the judge Buhrman's mother was prepared to testify that her son, if convicted, was ready to "serve his sentence even if it included jail time." He said the defendant's girlfriend also would testify Buhrman never mentioned plans to flee.

Prosecutors sought to have Buhrman's $20,000 bond revoked last year after developing information that he may have been plotting to flee to Chile with a large amount of gold. At the time, authorities said, Buhrman had access to a private jet.

In the carjacking case, he's accused of stealing a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am from a woman in a shopping center parking lot. Authorities said the robber had a loaded .45-caliber handgun and wore a "high-quality" mask that made him look like an elderly man.

Buhrman, who has pleaded not guilty, was stopped and arrested a short distance from the scene, still armed and wearing the mask, authorities said. He later told police he was "thrill-seeking," authorities said.

The case is due back in court March 5.

A Dresden spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

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