MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Standing before a Miami-Dade jury Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine pointed to Michel Escoto Monday and declared, “This defendant is guilty of murder in the first degree.”
Escoto is charged with murdering his bride of just four days, Wendy Trapaga, in October, 2002.
Escoto allegedly used a tire iron to bludgeon his bride, dumping her body in a North Miami-Dade warehouse district.
“This was a crime of greed,” Levine told the jury.
Escoto, the state says, murdered his wife in order to collect a $1 million life insurance policy he had taken out on her.
Escoto’s girlfriend, Yolanda Cerillo, testified Escoto planned to drug his newlywed, making it look like an accidental overdose and bathtub drowning.
“Give her some pills, drown her,” Levine said. “Just push her under the water.”
The plot was a botched however, Levine said, when the drugged wife awoke in the water and struggled.
Cerillo testified that Escoto drove his semi-conscious wife to her house, and the two went to the warehouse district where Wendy Trapaga was bludgeoned and asphyxiated. Cerillo testified she didn’t witness the actual killing, but waited in the car nearby.
The tire iron was found in Biscayne Bay where Cerillo told Police she watched Escoto dump it.
Police charged Escoto with murdering his wife after he sued the insurance company in an effort to collect on her life insurance policy. “Inconsistencies” during that lawsuit, combined with Cerillo coming forward led to the murder charges.
In proceedings over the insurance claim, Escoto said he and Wendy had argued and she drove away angry – the last time he ever saw her. A toxicologist, though, said Wendy was too heavily drugged to have been able to drive at all.
Escoto acted as his own attorney during trial, but his backup lawyer, Terence Lenamon presented the defense’s closing argument.
“This has been a vilification of Michel Escoto,” Lenamon told the jury.
The defense attorney immediately tried to cast doubt on the testimony of the state’s star witness, Cerillo.
“That ridiculous story about the drowning,” Linneman said. “Can you trust that story? That story has no reliability.”
The defense suggested Cerillo concocted a tale to save her own neck.
During the trial, Escoto suggested that Cerillo, an obsessed jealous girlfriend, had reason to want his wife dead.
Judge Marisa Tinkler-Mendez decided to have jurors begin their deliberations Tuesday, because closing arguments were expected to continue until late Monday.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Escoto will receive an automatic sentence of life without parole.
The judge, because the closing arguments were so lengthy, sent the jury home Monday night to return Tuesday to resume, or begin, deliberations.