Testimony begins in Montano murder trial
By Dan Campana For Sun-Times Media October 28, 2013 6:58PM
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.
Updated: December 1, 2013 7:50AM
ST. CHARLES — With tears forming and a slight hesitation in her voice, Maribel Montano Barajas looked across the courtroom at her father, Aurelio Montano, the man she once confronted about the disappearance of her mother.
Barajas, now 33, was only 10 years old when she last saw her mother, Maria Guadalupe Montano, in July 1990. She recalled an argument between her parents that day, her father upset at Maria’s clothing choices. How Maria dressed and the fact she sometimes rode to work with a male coworker upset Aurelio, Barajas said. Her father took her to spend the afternoon at a relative’s home that summer day. He’d be back “later in the afternoon,” she remembered him saying.
“He didn’t come (back)” until the following morning, Barajas said.
Prosecutors contend Aurelio Montano strangled Maria during the time their daughter spent with relatives. Twenty-three years after Maria Montano vanished, prosecutors stepped in front of a jury to spell out in detail how and why they believe Montano killed his wife of 12 years. Montano, 58, was charged with the murder in 2008. Although Maria’s body was never found, Assistant State’s Attorney Greg Sams told the jury of six men and six women that the story is simple: Montano strangled Maria inside their Aurora home before approaching at least three different relatives to assist him in eventually burying her body at a horse farm in Naperville owned by his family.
Montano first recruited an estranged sister to drive with him to his house and then the farm. The sister, Sams said, will testify she saw Maria’s body with a rope around her neck. Montano rolled Maria’s body up in an area rug, leaving her feet sticking out, Sams explained.
Montano told his sister, “I sent the snake to hell,” Sams said.
Further previewing upcoming testimony, Sams explained that Montano told a nephew Maria “bad mouthed” the Montano family, while telling another nephew he killed Maria because she was “unfaithful.” One nephew told police that Montano, about a year after Maria’s disappearance, showed him a plastic bag he said contained Maria’s head and hands. The pair went for a ride and tossed the bag, Sams said. Montano even told the nephew he wanted a wood chipper because he believed he wouldn’t be charged with murder if no body was found.
Montano’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Brenda Willett, countered Sams’ contentions by suggesting the state’s witnesses have all offered different versions of their stories over the last two decades, some changing their versions of events after getting assurances their information would not be used against them. Willett said Montano’s sister will “tell a story that doesn’t make any sense,” while Montano cooperated with police in 1991.
“You’re going to have to decide whether anything they say is believable or not,” Willett told jurors.
Willett, both in her opening statement and in questioning, challenged Barajas’ recollection of events. In 1994, Aurora police told Barajas they were looking into Maria’s death, something that “shocked” Barajas, Willett said. After that, Barajas sought answers.
“That is when her statements start to change,” Willett said. “And she’s trying to find answers in what police are telling her.”
Barajas’ testimony Monday covered the car ride home with her father when he said Maria had left them for another man and her description of a bedroom in disarray that left her unsure about whether her mother had really left. In the bedroom, aside from some missing clothes, Maria’s purse and wallet, as well as jewelry, remained, Barajas said.
“Rings that she wouldn’t take off ever were on her vanity,” Barajas said.
Barajas said she even confronted Montano in 2007 about her mother’s disappearance.
“I wanted to ask him what happened to my mother,” she said, mentioning her wishes to have a proper burial for Maria.
She visited Montano in prison, where he is serving a life sentence for ordering two murders in Aurora in the late 1990s. Jurors were not told about Montano’s previous murder conviction or where the visit took place. During the meeting, Montano said Barajas “wouldn’t be able to handle the truth” and that “there could be a body.”
Under questioning from Willett, Barajas said “I always suspected something had happened to my mom.”
Willett pushed Barajas about whether Montano had told her that Maria went to Mexico, which Barajas said she didn’t recall. Barajas acknowledged later finding a copy of a plane ticket.
Beyond testimony, prosecutors plan to focus on the discovery of the rug Maria was believed to have been buried in, a rug they displayed during Barajas’ testimony for jurors, and evidence related to cadaver dog searches of a site excavated on the Naperville farm in 2007. The specialized dog detected the scent of human decomposition, although aside from the previously discovered rug, only “links of rope and twine” were found, Sams said. Willett is expected to dispute the value of the dog’s findings 17 years after Maria disappeared.
Testimony resumes on Tuesday.