Man accused of murdering wife defends himself in court - WSVN-TV - 7NEWS Miami Ft. Lauderdale News, Weather, Deco

Man accused of murdering wife defends himself in court

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Michel Escoto Michel Escoto

MIAMI (WSVN) -- A South Florida man accused of beating his wife to death soon after they were married has decided to represent himself in court.

Murder suspect Michel Escoto delivered his opening statement as his own legal counsel in front of jurors who will ultimately decide his fate, Thursday.

The defendant's lack of legal knowledge was evident in his opening remarks. Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Maria Tinkler Mendez objected to remarks in his statement on several occasions.

Escoto said he is out to prove he is innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. "When I ask you, pay attention," he said as he addressed the court. "These are the details. The details matter. You're going to be told a lot of things, and it's going to be up to you to make the determination."

Prosecutors allege Escoto planned to carry out the murder of his wife, Wendy Trapaga, in October of 2002. The victim's family watched as graphic crime scene photos were shown in court.

Prosecutor Rebecca DiMeglio said Escoto and then girlfriend Yolanda Cerrillo plotted to kill Trapaga in order to collect cash from her $1 million life insurance policy. "Everything had to be perfect, so they practiced," said prosecutor Rebecca DiMeglio.

According to prosecutors, the defendant's original plan was to kill Trapaga during the couple's honeymoon in Key West. When that attempt was unsuccessful, DiMeglio said, Escoto and Cerrillo found a hotel room at the Airport Executive Hotel on Oct. 13, 2002. "And when Wendy was nice and drugged up, he tried to drown her, but it didn't work," she said. "Something went wrong yet again."

With Trapaga drugged, prosecutors said, Escoto and Cerrillo drove around until they found a warehouse in Northwest Miami-Dade. "And while she did that, the defense slaughtered his new bride," said DiMeglio. "He bludgeoned her to death and strangled her using a tire iron."

Trapaga's body was found the next day. Soon after, Escoto attempted to claim the insurance money. Back then, he declined to comment about the case.

Escoto dropped his attempts to claim Trapaga's policy in 2005. Several years later, the state was able to acquire enough evidence to prosecute him.

Cerrillo was granted immunity after she offered information against her former boyfriend. She is expected to testify on behalf of the state.

Since Escoto is representing himself, he is expected to cross-examine Cerrillo.

Escoto is facing a maximum sentence of life in prison if he is convicted of first-degree murder.

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