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updated: 4/11/2013 3:34 PM

Jury finds Waukegan man guilty of murdering wife near forest preserve in 2002

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  • Ruben Contreras

      Ruben Contreras

 
 

It took only about 90 minutes for a Lake County jury to find a Waukegan man guilty of killing his wife before fleeing to Mexico.

Ruben Contreras, 51, stared without emotion as the verdict was announced in the 2002 murder of 34-year-old Graciela Guijarro.

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He also didn't flinch when each member of the jury affirmed their decision after defense attorney Christopher Lombardo requested they be polled in front of Lake County Judge Mark Levitt.

Contreras is due back in court June 6 for sentencing. He faces 60 years in prison.

"(Lake County Assistant State's Attorney) Scott Hoffert and I were proud to help bring justice to the Guijarro family," Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Jim Newman said after the guilty verdict. "Credit goes to the Waukegan Police who worked tirelessly on this case."

Contreras has been in Lake County jail without bond since he was extradited back to the United States after his 2008 arrest in Mexico.

Hoffert and Newman said Contreras had been working as a stable master at Day Break Farms, which borders the Des Plaines River and Lake County Forest Preserve District property in Waukegan in 2002.

He and Guijarro had been separated for six months, but were seen walking together the night of May 26, 2002, hours before her murder, authorities have said.

In his closing statement Thursday, Hoffert said Contreras became upset during a conversation he was having with his estranged wife. Contreras grabbed Guijarro from behind, put his hand over her mouth and nose and created an airtight seal that cut off her ability to breathe, Hoffert said.

He added Guijarro passed out after about 90 seconds, but Contreras kept his hand in place up to 5 minutes to kill her.

Hoffert said Contreras did it because he was jealous, angry, and resented his wife.

"That was his problem; she wanted to run away, she wanted to get away from him, and he wouldn't let her," Hoffert said. " ... He was mad because she was leaving, so he killed her."

Defense attorney Christopher Lombardo of Waukegan told the jury Contreras placed his hand over Guijarro's mouth to try and stop her from screaming, and that caused her to pass out and die.

Contreras did not intend to kill her, Lombardo argued, so he should be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a 14-year prison sentence.

"The state has not met the burden of proof that (Contreras) intended to kill his wife," Lombardo said during closing arguments. "Please have your verdict in this case follow the evidence, and not just theories."

After killing Guijarro, prosecutors said, Contreras moved her body to thick brush on the shore of the Des Plaines River, stripped her of her clothes, then fled for Mexico on June 2. Her body was found June 6.

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 killing 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.

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