MIAMI (CBSMiam) – It has been said that a defendant who represents himself has a fool for a client. Nonetheless Michel Escoto is acting as his own attorney as he goes on trial in a case with the rest of his life on the line.
“I would like to think that I am not a complete moron,” Escoto said as he began his opening statement to a 12 member Miami-Dade jury.
He is charged with murdering his bride, 21-year-old Wendy Trapaga in October, 2002. They were newlyweds.
“He wanted money and he wanted lots of it,” prosecutor Rebecca DiMeglio told the jury. “This time, he had murder on his mind.”
The state says Escoto killed his bride to collect a $1 million life insurance policy.
“Four days – four days! – after that marriage, this defendant bludgeoned and strangled Wendy Trapaga to death in a warehouse parking lot, leaving her body in a trash bin,” DiMeglio told the jury.
“Only an imbecile… would kill somebody four days after they married that person, for the purpose of obtaining money,” He said.
Escoto claimed he last saw his bride when she drove away, angry, after they argued. Her body was later found beaten with a tire iron and choked.
Police immediately suspected Escoto. The murdered woman’s family issued public appeals for help in solving the case.
Escoto attempted to collect the insurance policy on his wife, and when the company delayed payment he quickly brought suit trying to get the $1 million.
Conflicting statements he made in that civil trial led police in 2005 to charge him with the murder.
A girlfriend, Yolanda Cerrillo, “flipped” in return for full immunity. She will testify that she plotted with Escoto to kill Wendy. The plan was to drug the young wife, and drown her in the bathtub, making it appear to be an accident. Cerrillo says after drugging his wife unconscious, Escoto botched the drowning and resorted to brutal murder.
Escoto told jurors the state made a bargain with a liar.
“They have to make a deal to prove their case, the truth be damned,” Escoto said.
Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Kenneth Hutchinson was among the first witnesses to testify Thursday.
Hutchinson has previously debunked Escoto’s claim that Wendy drove away in an angry huff. The young woman had too many drugs in her system to have been able to steer a car, according to the coroner.
Trapaga’s family won a multi-million dollar award in a civil case against the girlfriend, Cerrillo.
Escoto did not say it directly, but suggested in his opening statement that the finger of blame for his wife’s death might be pointed at Cerrillo, a jealous lover.
The case is being tried before Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Marisa Tinkler-Mendez.
If convicted of first degree murder, Escoto is facing mandatory life without parole.