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Trial Continued Friday For Man Accused Of Murdering Newlywed Wife

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Testimony resumed Friday in the case of a man prosecutors believe killed his newlywed wife to collect a $1 million life insurance policy.

The mother of Wendy Trapaga took the stand as her daughter’s accused killer looked on Friday.

Myriam Benitez became emotional as she spoke, through a translator, about the last day she saw her daughter alive at a party to celebrate her marriage to Michel Escoto.

“That was the last day I was able to hug her,” said Benitez.

Escoto and Trapaga were married just days before Escoto allegedly beat and strangled his new bride in October 2002.

Prosecutors said Escoto wanted his wife’s million dollar life insurance policy and to get back together with his old girlfriend.

Escoto is representing himself in his murder trial.

In court Friday, Benitez said she didn’t care for Escoto when he and her daughter started dating and she was concerned when her daughter told her she bought life insurance while she and Escoto were living together but not married.

“I did not feel good,” said Benitez.  “I expressed to her ‘Why insurance?’ They’re not even married, no children. They’re renting. She’s sleeping on the floor. She did not have a job. Why insurance?”

She also talked about a fight between the couple before their marriage.

“He takes off his helmet furiously, very angry, starts throwing it against the cement once, two times very angry,” Benitez added. “I’m in shock and I see my daughter standing still not moving.”

Still, Benitez said she believed that her daughter and Escoto were happy when they wed at a courthouse ceremony October 10th.

Shortly before their marriage, Wendy Trapaga told her mother she was pregnant.

Her mother said she was looking forward to being a grandmother to that child .

She never got the chance because Trapaga was killed.

The trial will continue next week.  It began Thursday with Michel Escoto, who is acting as his own attorney, giving a rambling opening statement and fumbling his way through the first day of the trial.

“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 wanted money and he wanted lots of it,” prosecutor Rebecca DiMeglio told the jury.  “This time, he had murder on his mind. 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.”

Escoto’s reply?

“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.

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