Almost 11 years ago, Ruben Contreras fled to Mexico after authorities said he dumped the body of his estranged wife in a forest preserve.
It took a Lake County jury 90 minutes Thursday to convict the former Libertyville man of first-degree murder in her death.
On May 26, 2002, authorities say, Contreras was returning with his estranged wife, Graciala Guijarro, and 2-year-old son to Daybreak Farm Stables in Libertyville, where Contreras lived and worked, when a fight ensued between the couple.
In a videotaped statement to police, Contreras, now 51, said he covered his wife's mouth and nose with his hand until she went limp, which he said he did to keep her from yelling so that no one on the property would call police, according to Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney Jim Newman.
The prosecutor noted Contreras didn't need to cover her nose to keep her from yelling.
Contreras also told police that after he realized she was dead, he carried her body 300 yards away into adjacent forest preserve. He then called his current girlfriend and two friends and told his girlfriend to watch his son while he returned to the body to strip it naked so that no fingerprints would be found, Newman said he told police.
Guijarro’s body was not found for 10 days, Newman said. She was 34.
Contreras spent the next week trying to find someone to care for his son, who he eventually would leave in the care of friends. He then boarded a bus and fled to Jalisco, Mexico.
It took six years for federal officials to locate, then extradite Contreras. On Dec. 16, 2008, he was returned to Waukegan, where police took custody of him and would extract a confession.
During his videotaped confession, which was in Spanish and translated into English for the jury, Contreras “bad-mouthed” his wife, said Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Hoffert.
“He tried to provide some justification for what he did by trying to make her out to be a bad person,” Hoffert said. “He said she was mean to him and said hurtful things to him.”
During the trial, forensic pathologist Nancy Jones testified that it would take about 90 seconds for a person to lose consciousness if someone was holding a hand over his or her nose and mouth. It would take 3 to 5 minutes before brain death would occur, Jones said, according to Hoffert.
“That showed the intent to kill,” Hoffert said.
During his closing argument, defense attorney Christopher Lombardo said that his client did not intend to kill his wife.
“He was merely trying to keep her from yelling out loud,” he said. “He didn’t realize she was dying until it was too late.”
Contreras has been held without bond since his extradition from Mexico. He is expected to be sentenced on June 6.