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Engineer convicted of Woodridge carjacking

Michael Buhrman

Michael Buhrman

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He wasn’t there to hear the verdict, but missing nuclear plant engineer Michael Buhrman was convicted Wednesday of a bizarre 2012 DuPage County carjacking.

Jurors deliberated for less than an hour before convicting the 32-year-old Buhrman, who vanished last September while free on bond after being charged with stealing a car at gunpoint.

Prosecutors contend Buhrman—who at the time of his May 9 arrest worked at the Dresden Generating Station near Morris—may have slipped out of the country to avoid trial.

A former girlfriend told authorities the U.S. Navy veteran claimed he had collected $100,000 in gold and planned to flee to Chile. The GPS monitoring bracelet he had been ordered to wear after posting his $20,000 cash bond was discovered neatly sliced open in the bedroom of his Coal City home after he disappeared.

Though Buhrman was absent, prosecutors pushed ahead with his trial, even arguing Wednesday his disappearance meant he knew he would be convicted of the carjacking.

“The fact that the defendant isn’t here today indicates even he knows he’s guilty,” Assistant State’s Attorney Demetri Demopoulos told jurors before they began deliberating.

A suburban woman testified a gunman wearing the lifelike face mask of an elderly man took her 2000 Pontiac Grand Am from her in a Woodridge parking lot. A witness followed the car and called police, who found Buhrman at the wheel, still wearing the mask and carrying a .45-caliber pistol.

Though Buhrman—who earned more than $100,000 annually at Dresden-- told investigator he stole the car for “the thrill,” he never offered a full explanation of the crime.

He faces a minimum 21-year prison term when he is sentenced next month.

Buhrman’s attorneys argued he didn’t disappear to avoid being tried.

“It’s still our contention that he didn’t leave voluntarily,” defense attorney Richard Blass said, contending police who checked his home after he vanished found “signs of a struggle.”

Prosecutors disputed that claim, with Demopoulos saying “there’s no evidence he did anything other than run.”

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