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Cadaver dog evidence allowed in body-less murder case

Aurelio Montano 55 Auroris charged 1990 death his wife Guadalupe MariMontano whose body has not been found. Montano is already

Aurelio Montano, 55, of Aurora, is charged in the 1990 death of his wife, Guadalupe Maria Montano, whose body has not been found. Montano is already serving life in prison for ordering the murders of a man and woman.

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Updated: October 8, 2012 8:13PM

Kane County prosecutors will be able to use evidence of cadaver dog alerts for human remains in the murder trial of an Aurora man accused of killing his wife, who disappeared in 1990.

Aurelio Montano, 57, is charged with murdering his wife, Maria, prior to filing for divorce in 1991.

Authorities have said Montano killed his wife, dismembered and buried her body and later moved it. Her body has never been found.

Montano is already serving a life sentence for ordering the murders of two people in 1996.

A hearing last week in Kane County Court focused on the issue of whether the use of human remains detection dogs — also known as cadaver dogs — is considered scientific and an acceptable method for evidence discovery. Judge Tim Sheldon noted the hearing was necessary because Illinois has no case law on the admissibility of such evidence.

During the investigation, dogs showed positive alerts for human remains, information prosecutors want to present at Montano’s trial.

Susan Stejskal testified as an expert in the canine sense of smell, human decomposition and the training and use of cadaver dogs. She does training around the country and recently released a book on the topic.

“They are a locating tool,” Stejskal said of the dogs during her lengthy testimony. “A lot of what I do are cold cases.”

Stejskal talked about the expansive use of recovery dogs, which are trained differently than rescue dogs, at all levels — from the FBI and Federal Emergency Management Agency to state and local police. She also described how cadaver dogs are trained to identify human remains based on odors present during four general stages of decomposition.

Stejskal likened the cadaver dog training process to how drug and explosive sniffing dogs are prepared to work with investigators.

Attorneys held off on setting a trial date for Montano because Sheldon will be retiring from the bench next month. It is expected that former Kane County State’s Attorney John Barsanti, a current judge, will take over Sheldon’s caseload in December. However, Barsanti likely would have to recuse himself from the case because he was the county’s top prosecutor when Montano was charged in 2008. Montano returns to court Dec. 6.

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