Carjacking trial for missing engineer proceeds without him
Carrie Bradley was getting out of her car last May when a seemingly elderly man walked up and asked if she needed help. Then she heard the sound of a gun being cocked.
"He aimed toward my chin and told me to hand over the keys and walk away," she testified Tuesday at the trial of missing nuclear engineer Michael Burhman.
Buhrman is accused of hijacking Bradley's 2000 Pontiac Grand Am in a bizarre attack outside a Kohl's store in Woodridge, some 40 miles from his home in downstate Coal City.
DuPage County Judge Kathryn Creswell found him "willfully absent" from court after his disappearance in September and is allowing jurors to hear the case without him.
In opening statements, 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 the 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.
"The evidence is in this case is straightforward," Demopoulos told jurors.
But the defense team, who picked apart witness accounts for specifics on cross-examination, urged the jury to "keep an open mind," and reminded the panel that prosecutors have the burden of proof.
"We believe the state will fail to meet its burden," defense attorney Victor Escarcida said.
Before his arrest, Buhrman, a 32-year-old Navy veteran, was a senior reactor operator at Dresden Nuclear Power Plant in Morris, Ill.
Last year, prosecutors said they received information he was accumulating gold and plotting to flee to South America, possibly in a private jet.
Buhrman was 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's attorneys said authorities checked his residence again before trial, but there was no sign of him.
Testimony resumes Wednesday.