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Jury Selection Begins In Trial Of Man Accused Of Murdering, Torching His Wife

MURRIETA (CBS) —  Jury selection began Wednesday in the trial of a Lake Elsinore man who allegedly killed his wife because she wanted to leave him.

Roberto Gallardo Aguilar, 29, could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted of the May 22, 2009, death of 22-year-old Sharon Elizabeth Contreras.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Albert Wojcik summoned more than 100 prospective jurors to his Murrieta courtroom for screening as to their availability and qualifications.

Jury selection was scheduled to continue tomorrow, with opening statements expected on Monday.

Aguilar remains in custody in lieu of $1 million bail at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta.

According to a trial brief filed by Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle, Aguilar and Contreras were in the midst of a divorce when she was killed.

Witnesses told sheriff's investigators that Aguilar stated on several occasions that "he would rather see Sharon dead than with someone else," according to the brief.

Aguilar also allegedly bragged to a friend that he had abused Contreras, stabbing her in the stomach with a knife and inflicting other wounds, the court papers state.

In the seven months before her death, the victim received medical treatment for unexplained injuries on multiple occasions, but never blamed Aguilar, according to the prosecution.

The couple, who had a son together, separated about a month before Contreras was killed and after she served him with divorce papers.

Around 1:45 on the morning of the murder, the defendant left his job at a Garden Grove club without saying where he was going, Peuvrelle said.

According to the prosecutor, Aguilar drove to Lake Elsinore, where Contreras was living in her father's house on Amorose Drive. Peuvrelle alleged that during a confrontation, the defendant suffocated Contreras.

The defendant allegedly took the body to a deserted area near Temescal Canyon and Jeff roads and set it ablaze. Passing motorists thought they were witnessing a small brush fire and called 911, leading to the discovery of Contreras' partially burned remains.

Four days later, Aguilar allegedly told friend Luis Sandoval that he had gotten into a fight with Contreras and she was "La chinge," which roughly translated from Spanish means "I (expletive) her up."

The defendant reported his wife missing to Garden Grove police, telling an investigator that he and the victim had gotten into an argument over $50, and she ran away, according to the prosecution.

During a later interview with a Riverside County sheriff's detective, Aguilar acknowledged that he had told Sandoval that he had killed his wife, the prosecutor alleged.

According to the brief, cell phone records confirmed the defendant was in Lake Elsinore immediately before and after Contreras' death.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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