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Article updated: 5/15/2013 6:48 PM

DuPage carjacker/nuclear engineer gets 40 years

By Robert Sanchez

If a nuclear engineer and carjacker who is believed to have fled the country is found by authorities, he will have a prison cell waiting for him.

A DuPage County judge Wednesday sentenced Michael Buhrman to 40 years in prison for his armed carjacking of a woman's vehicle last year in the parking lot of a Woodridge store.

Buhrman, 32, of Coal City, was convicted last month of aggravated vehicular hijacking and vehicular hijacking. He disappeared in September and his trial went on without him.

Judge Kathryn Creswell said she has "absolutely no doubt" Buhrman fled to avoid prosecution. She said it was one of the factors she considered while handing out the 40-year sentence.

"Once the defendant is caught," Creswell said, "a lengthy sentence is required to protect the public."

Authorities say a masked Buhrman approached his victim about 10 p.m. May 9, 2012, as she sat in her parked car at a Kohl's store in Woodridge. Buhrman pointed a loaded .45-caliber handgun at the woman's head, ordered her out of the 2000 Pontiac Grand Am and then took off in the car.

Buhrman was stopped and arrested by police a short distance from the scene, still armed and wearing the mask that made him look like an elderly man. He later told investigators he was "thrill-seeking," prosecutors have said.

Buhrman, a Navy veteran and former reactor operator at the Dresden Nuclear Power Plant in Morris, was freed on $20,000 cash bail within days of being charged.

In July, Creswell put Buhrman on home confinement and GPS monitoring after prosecutors said his girlfriend came forward with details of a plot to escape to Chile before trial.

In September, Buhrman's GPS ankle monitor issued an alert that it had been tampered with and police went to his home. They found the device had been cut off and Buhrman was gone.

On Wednesday, Buhrman's defense attorneys restated their belief that Buhrman didn't leave voluntarily. They point to how his home was in disarray.

"From the looks of the scene, it looks like somebody took him," defense attorney Richard Blass said.

Blass said he doesn't know where Buhrman could be. "I hope he's OK," he said.

Police have said Buhrman's home appeared "staged" to make it look as if he was abducted. He went missing three days after he withdrew $14,000 deposited into his checking account from a foreign source a day earlier, authorities have said.

It also was revealed during an earlier hearing that a former co-worker of Buhrman's went to South America last year and hasn't returned.

Woodridge Detective Jody Porras testified during Wednesday's sentencing hearing that Buhrman tried to enlist a co-worker for "a team" that would rob banks. Buhrman told the co-worker he wanted to rob banks "to get back at the system," Porras said.

Buhrman's ex-wife, Melissa Gates, testified Wednesday that he was controlling and abusive during their nearly three-year marriage, which ended in July 2008.

Gates said she now lives in fear thinking about what could happen if Buhrman comes back to get their 6-year-old son. "I don't know what he would do with me," she said.

Assistant State's Attorney Demetri Demopoulos described Buhrman as "a dangerous and evil man" who doesn't care about following the law.

"He's a coward," Demopoulos said in court. "When he faces something unpleasant, he takes off."

After the sentencing hearing, a tearful Gates apologized to the victim in the hallway outside the courtroom. Gates said she wished she had done something sooner about her former husband.

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