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Guilty verdict in fatal embrace case

Ruben Contreras

Ruben Contreras

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Updated: May 13, 2013 6:05AM

A jury spent about 90 minutes deliberating before convicting a “cowpoke” of murdering his wife in a fatal hug.

The jury found Ruben Contreras, 51, guilty of murdering his wife Graciela Guijarro, 34, at Daybreak Farm Stables in Waukegan on May 26, 2002.

The question before the six-women, six-men jury was of intent. Prosecutors James Newman and Scott Hoffert argued that Contreras meant to kill his wife when he embraced her, then cupped his hand over her mouth and nose until she stopped breathing. The intent to kill made this a first-degree murder case, Hoffert said.

Defense attorney Christopher Lombardo argued that this was a case of involuntary manslaughter, not first-degree murder. Intent to kill would make it murder while an act of recklessness would make it involuntary manslaughter, Hoffert said.

Contreras would have faced up to 14 years in prison if he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He now faces 20 to 60 years in prison for Thursday’s conviction.

“[Waukegan police] worked tirelessly to bring justice to Guijarro’s family. Scott and I were happy to be a part of bringing justice to her family,” prosecutor Newman said.

Contreras and his wife were separated before they got together Memorial Day weekend in 2002.

“They hadn’t seen each other in six months, so where is this ‘I want to kill my wife’ coming from?” Lombardo argued.

The desire to kill came from jealousy, Hoffert said. During the trial, testimony surfaced that Contreras’ wife said she found one of his coworkers attractive.

“The defendant is imagining things ... she wanted to get away from the defendant, but he wouldn’t let her. That’s the motive. It’s jealousy and resentment,” Hoffert said.

Contreras told police he hugged his wife and then covered her nose and mouth when she tried to escape. He also told police he dumped her body near a river and then removed her clothes so he did not leave any DNA evidence. His videotaped confession was played for the jury.

Directly after the murder, Contreras fled to Mexico 10 days and remained there until he was extradited to the United States in 2008, according to evidence presented at trial.

“If it was an accident, you run for help, you don’t run to Mexico,” Hoffert said.

Daybreak Farm Stables, where Contreras was employed as a horse groomer, is in the country without a restaurant or gas station in sight, Hoffert said.

“When night falls, it is pitch black. It is country-dark ... the defendant found [the spot to dump his wife’s body] in the dead of night in the country-dark. That’s premeditation,” Hoffert said.

Police had to use cadaver dogs because her body was so well hidden in the underbrush near a river in dense woods on the horse ranch’s property, Hoffert said. Police found Guijarro in June 2002.

Contreras is due for sentencing June 6. He remains in custody at Lake County Jail without bond.

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