Guilty Verdict In Newlywed Murder Trial
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A jury deliberated approximately two and a half hours before finding Michel Escoto guilty of first degree murder for the 2002 death of his wife Wendy Trapaga.
Escoto was emotionless as the verdict was read.
Trapaga’s mother, cried in court after learning her ex-son-in-law’s fate.
Escoto, jurors agreed, murdered Trapaga, his wife of four days, so he could collect on a one million dollar insurance policy.
Wendy Trapaga’s family offered no comment at the courthouse, but her sister, Rita Stephan, spoke to CBS4’s Lauren Pastrana over the phone Tuesday night.
“The truth is out and he’s finally going to pay after almost 12 years,” Rita Stephan said.
“It’s been a very, very tough case for all of us involved,” said Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine. “We’re just glad Wendy has some peace.”
Terry Lenamon, legal adviser to Escoto, said, “It really hurt him that he represented himself–particularly in cross-examining the star witness Yolanda Cerrillo.”
“He failed to attack her credibility because he was not qualified to do her cross-examination, “ Lenamon said. “He just could not touch any of the state’s witnesses.”
While difficult to endure, Stephan said the trial was fair and Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez “did everything perfectly”.
“In the end I’m sure he’s going to try to file an appeal or something like that or some kind of grievance of what he didn’t get, but he’s not going to be able to because he was given every allowance and every opportunity for representation,” Stephan said.
During Levine’s closing argument Monday she pointed to Escoto and declared, “This defendant is guilty of murder in the first degree.”
Escoto 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’s girlfriend, Yolanda Cerillo, testified Escoto planned to drug his newlywed bride, making it look like an accidental overdose and drown her in a Jacuzzi.
The plot was a botched however, Levine said, when the drugged wife awoke in the water and struggled.
Cerrillo testified that Escoto drove his semi-conscious wife to her house, and the two went to the warehouse district where Trapaga was bludgeoned and asphyxiated. Cerrillo testified she didn’t witness the actual killing, but waited in the car nearby.
The tire iron was found in Biscayne Bay where Cerrillo 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 Trapaga 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.
Judge Tinkler Mendez set May 7th for the sentencing hearing in which Escoto will receive an automatic sentence of life without parole.
Trapaga’s family will have a chance to speak at the sentencing hearing.
Stephan is still crafting her statement, but says she will make one thing clear.
“He’s evil,” Stephan said. “He took away something that was beautiful and a light in this world.”