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Article updated: 4/3/2013 2:32 PM

Trial for decade-old Lake County murder expected to start Monday

Ruben Contreras

Ruben Contreras

 
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Jury selection will begin Monday for a man who police say murdered his wife nearly a decade ago then fled to Mexico.

Ruben Contreras, 51, faces up to 60 years in prison if convicted of the May 26, 2002 murder of Graciela Guijarro, 34. He is charged with first-degree murder in the case.

Contreras remains held in Lake County jail without bond, where he has been since he was extradited to the United States following his 2008 arrest in Mexico.

Lake County assistant state's attorneys Jim Newton and Scott Hoffert met with defense attorney Christopher Lombardo in court Wednesday to review final details and ground rules for the trial, expected to begin Monday.

According to prosecutors, Contreras was living apart from his wife and 2-year-old son in early 2002, but working as the stable master at Day Break Farms, a subdivision bordered by the Des Plaines River and Lake County Forest Preserve property near Waukegan.

Authorities said Contreras and Guijarro were seen walking together May 26, 2002, just hours before her murder but a few days before she was reported missing by her family. Contreras boarded a bus in Waukegan on June 2, 2002 that took him to Laredo, Texas, where police saidhe crossed the border into Mexico.

Guijarro's body was found four days later on an embankment, about 900 yards from the cottage where Contreras lived at Day Break Farms. An autopsy determined the woman had been asphyxiated, authorities said.

After searching for him for six years, the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice found Contreras living in Cuarnavaca, Mexico. He was arrested and extradited to Lake County, authorities said.

Contreras confessed to the murder to the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, saying he placed his hand over his wife's mouth and nose during an argument and held it there until her body went limp, authorities said. He carried the body down to the embankment, removed her clothing and returned to his cottage, authorities said.

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