Montano found guilty of murder
By Dan Campana For Sun-Times Media October 30, 2013 4:43PM
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: October 30, 2013 8:08PM
ST. CHARLES — Aurelio Montano was found guilty Wednesday evening of the murder of his wife.
Montano’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Brenda Willett, said Montano’s daughter, nephews and sister told inconsistent stories about the information they have to believe he killed his wife, Maria Guadalupe Montano, in 1990. And, some of them didn’t come forward with details about Montano’s involvement until 17 years after Maria vanished.
On the other side, prosecutors suggested that short of a massive family conspiracy to frame Aurelio for Maria’s murder, the relatives who took the stand held back what they knew out of fear. Any inconsistencies in their testimony came not because they were lying, but because the passage of time blunted some memories while the most significant recollections remained solid, Assistant State’s Attorney Greg Sams said in closing arguments.
The jury of six men and six women began their deliberations around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and reached their verdict around 7:30 p.m.
Montano had pleaded not guilty to his wife’s murder. At the time of her disappearance, Montano, now 58, told his then 10-year-old daughter Maribel that Maria had left them for another man. Maria’s body has never been found. Montano declined to testify during the trial.
“I say no,” Montano, speaking for the first time during the trial, said when asked if he would take the witness stand. “I leave it in your hands and the jury’s hands.”
After calling six witnesses during the defense case that lasted less than an hour on Wednesday, Willett used nearly an hour for her closing statement to walk jurors through what she saw as holes in the state’s case. While she repeatedly jabbed at the testimony of Montano’s relatives, she also questioned two key pieces of evidence: a rug unearthed at the Naperville farm where some Montanos lived and worked in the early 1990s, as well as cadaver dog alerts for the odor of human decomposition at a dig site on the farm in 2007.
In particular, Willett questioned the story versions offered by Aurelio’s sister about seeing Maria’s body with rope or twine around her neck, but then, at another point, telling authorities she only saw Maria’s feet sticking out of a rolled up “bundle.” Willett wondered how anyone could keep that a secret for 17 years.
“She actually just sits for 17 years,” Willett said of the sister.
Willett, as she did earlier in the day during testimony by a cadaver dog handler, challenged the findings of dogs trained to identify human remains. The handler told jurors that three dogs, independent of one another, alerted for the smell of human decomposition at a dig site on the farm and on an area rug pulled from the ground. Maria Montano Barajas, Aurelio’s daughter, as well as Aurelio’s sister, both identified the rug as having been inside the family home before Maria vanished.
Willett said the dig that uncovered the “mystery rug” and a piece of twine did nothing to prove a dead body had been buried on the farm.
“There is nothing on that rug,” Willett said.
Sams countered by challenging any notion that the Montanos orchestrated a plan in 2007 to implicate Aurelio in his wife’s death.
“Who called this meeting to get the Montano family together?” Sams asked rhetorically. “Hey, let’s come up with a story that someone murdered her. Let’s say it’s one of our blood relatives.
“Do you really think those people got together?” Sams said to jurors.
While detailing the family had no motivation to pin the death on Aurelio, Sams said Aurelio had jealousy as motive to commit the crime.
Aurelio suspected that his wife was cheating on him and the couple was heading for a divorce.
He also bolstered Maribel’s identification of the rug as key evidence because, before seeing it in person, she described it to police as the one that was in the family home.
Sams wrapped up by reminding jurors of Aurelio’s indifferent reaction when presented with a warrant for the murder in June of 2008.
“Use your common sense about what that reaction should have been,” Sams said.
Montano is currently serving a life sentence for ordering the murders of a man and woman in the 1990s.