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updated: 4/18/2013 12:58 AM

Nuclear engineer guilty of Woodridge 'thrill' carjacking

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  • Michael Buhrman

      Michael Buhrman

 
 

A senior reactor operator at a nuclear power plant who is believed to have fled the country was found guilty Wednesday of an armed carjacking of a woman's car in the parking lot of a Woodridge store.

A jury found Michael Buhrman, 32, of Coal City, guilty of aggravated vehicular hijacking with a firearm and vehicular hijacking. He was not present for the verdict, which took a DuPage County jury 45 minutes to reach.

During closing arguments, prosecutor David Friedland repeatedly pointed to an empty chair typically reserved for defendants.

"There is your defendant, ladies and gentleman, right there," Friedland told jurors. "He knows what he did, and he's not willing to be here to take responsibility for his actions."

The carjacking was described as a thrill crime by prosecutors.

"Nearly one year ago, Michael Buhrman pointed a loaded weapon at an innocent woman's head and stole her car just for the thrill of it," State's Attorney Robert Berlin said after the verdict.

About 10 p.m. May 9, a masked Buhrman approached his victim, Carrie Bradley, as she sat in her parked car at a Kohl's store in Woodridge. Buhrman then pointed a loaded .45 caliber handgun at Bradley's head and ordered her out of the car, prosecutors said.

During closing arguments Wednesday, defense attorneys focused on Bradley's inability to remember specific details about the coat Buhrman wore or the type of gun he pointed at her.

"I'm sorry (Bradley) couldn't remember the serial number of a gun pointed 2 feet in front of her," Friedland countered to jurors.

In the end, jurors entered the guilty verdict to Bradley's satisfaction.

"I'm just glad it's all over," a visibly distraught Bradley said after court Wednesday. "I'm relieved it came out with him being guilty."

DuPage County Judge Kathryn Creswell found Buhrman "willfully absent" from court after his disappearance in September and allowed jurors to hear the case without him.

Prosecutors said Buhrman "ambushed" Bradley with a loaded .45-caliber handgun while disguised in a high-quality mask that made him look bald and elderly.

The victim was on break from her job at the department store at the time, and she ran back into the building after giving up her keys.

Buhrman sped off in Bradley's Grand Am but was pursued by a bystander who called 911 while tailing him from a short distance, Assistant State's Attorney Demetri Demopoulos said.

The bystander, Lou Canino of Downers Grove, testified he had his eyes on the Grand Am for all but a few seconds before police corralled it in a parking lot several blocks away.

Buhrman was still wearing the mask, and the loaded, .45-caliber gun was on the passenger seat, according to prosecutors.

Before his arrest, Buhrman was a senior reactor operator at Dresden Nuclear Power Plant in Morris, Ill. Prosecutors last year said they received information he was accumulating gold and plotting to flee to South America, possibly in a private jet.

He had been fitted with a monitoring device, but police found that device -- apparently cut from his ankle -- inside his home in September and haven't been able to locate him since.

Buhrman remains at large. But his attorney, Richard Blass, said he believes his client is unwillingly absent.

"As soon as he gets back and we can prove he was taken away against his will, we'll work on getting him a new trial," Blass said. "I've seen the evidence and the photos and I believe there was a struggle before he was taken away."

Assistant State's Attorney Demetri Demopoulos disagrees.

"There's absolutely no evidence he did anything but run," he said.

Buhrman is due back in court for sentencing on May 15. Prosecutors said he is facing 21 to 45 years in prison.

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