Calling the murder of Graciela Guijarro "incredibly shocking," a Lake County judge sentenced a Waukegan man to 48 years in prison for killing his wife more than a decade ago.
Ruben Contreras, 52, showed little emotion when the sentence was issued Monday at the Lake County courthouse.
Contreras was given credit for serving 5½ years in the Lake County jail, where he has been held since his arrest in 2008 for the murder if 34-year-old Graciela Guijarro.
"You had absolutely no reason to do what you did," Judge Mark Levitt said. "My way of thinking is that this was incredibly shocking."
In 2002, Contreras was working as a stable master at Day Break Farms bordering the Des Plaines River and Lake County Forest Preserve District property near Waukegan. He had separated from his wife six months earlier.
She was visiting and was walking with Contreras the night of May 26, 2002, when he became upset, grabbed Guijarro from behind, and put his hand over her mouth and nose to cut off her ability to breathe, prosecutors said.
Guijarro passed out after about 90 seconds, prosecutors said, but Contreras kept his hand in place up to 5 minutes longer to kill her.
After the murder, prosecutors said, Contreras moved her body to thick brush on the shore of the Des Plaines River and stripped her of her clothes.
He made arrangements for someone to care for his son in America before fleeing to Mexico on June 2.
Guijarro's body was found four days later.
After searching for him for six years, the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice found Contreras living in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He was arrested and extradited to Lake County, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Contreras killed Guijarro out of jealousy, anger and resentment, adding she had left Contreras in the past and even filed an emergency order of protection to keep him away.
"(He) made threats to her that he eventually acted out on," prosecutor Jim Newman said while arguing to have Contreras sentenced to more than 50 years in prison. "No (prison sentence) will bring her back, but a number starting in the 50s would give the family some justice they deserve."
Defense attorney Christopher Lombardo said Contreras was an honest man who truly regrets the circumstances surrounding his wife's death.
"He was remorseful, even crying and venting out to the men interviewing him," Lombardo said. "He was not a violent and abusive man. He cared about the woman."
In a last-ditch effort to be given the minimum 20 years in prison, Contreras told Levitt through an interpreter the death of his wife was an accident and that he was trying to calm her down the night she was killed.
"I have many years of suffering and pain in my heart," Contreras said. "I have no reason to do that to a woman I love."
Lombardo said after the hearing that he plans to appeal the sentence.