Kane Co. judge: Evidence from 'cadaver dogs' OK in murder trial
Prison photo of Aurelio Montano (Illinois Department of Corrections / October 4, 2012)
Judge Timothy Sheldon’s ruling could clear the way for dog handlers to provide corroborating evidence in the case of Aurelio Montano, a former Aurora resident and convicted double-murderer who is awaiting trial for the slaying of his wife, Guadalupe Montano.
Prosecutors want to present testimony that the so-called cadaver dogs showed signs they had detected human remains on a DuPage County farm where authorities allege Montano buried his wife after strangling her in July 1990.
Other states have approved cadaver dog testimony at trial, and Illinois courts have upheld the use of evidence obtained by drug-sniffing dogs in narcotics prosecutions. But Kane prosecutors said they could find no Illinois state case law supporting the use of dogs who detect human remains.
The judge’s ruling came after several hours of testimony from Susan Stejskal, a Michigan resident with a doctorate in toxicology who has trained cadaver dogs and written a book on the subject.
Dogs, she testified, rely on their sense of smell, which is substantially better than a person’s.
The average human may have 5 million sensory receptors for smell, compared to 300 million for a bloodhound, she said.
“We can’t smell the detail the dogs can,” Stejskal said.
That ability means dogs can be reliably trained to detect the presence of human decomposition, she said, and conversely, taught to disregard odors of decomposition from other animals.
Prosecutors say cadaver dogs alerted their handlers to the presence of human remains on a Hobson Road horse farm where Montano allegedly buried his wife’s body. Montano’s brother worked there in 1990 and reportedly told relatives that he helped his brother bury the body, according to court documents.
Convinced that his wife was unfaithful, Montano allegedly strangled Guadalupe. He then rolled up her body in a rug, which he placed in his pickup truck and drove to the farm, police allege.
In December 2007, Aurora police conducted a forensic dig at the farm and recovered pieces of a rug. Family members identified it as the rug from the Montano home.
Three cadaver dogs sniffed the remnant and gave positive alerts for the presence of human remains, according to court documents.
The farm dig, however, did not produce the victim’s body.
Other family members reported to police that Montano exhumed his wife’s body about four months after he allegedly killed her. Her body has never been recovered.
A nephew of Aurelio Montano’s told police that about a year after Guadalupe disappeared, he and Montano were having drinks at Montano’s home. Montano, the nephew said, brought him into the garage where he produced a plastic grocery bag that he said contained body parts of his wife.
The nephew, who said he feared Montano, said his uncle placed the bag in the trunk of the nephew’s car and they drove off.
“At some point, the defendant told (the nephew) to stop, get out and dispose of the bag,” according to court documents.
Montano was not charged with his wife’s murder until 2008.
By then, he was already serving a life sentence in prison after being convicted of participating in the 1996 drug-related murders of a Texas couple who were hanged in the basement of an Aurora house that Montano was restoring.