Jury issues guilty verdict in newlywed murder trial - WSVN-TV - 7NEWS Miami Ft. Lauderdale News, Weather, Deco

Jury issues guilty verdict in newlywed murder trial

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Michel Escoto being finger printed after being found guilty of first-degree meditated murder. Michel Escoto being finger printed after being found guilty of first-degree meditated murder.

MIAMI (WSVN) -- A jury has found a South Florida man accused of murdering his newlywed wife guilty of first-degree murder.

The jury issued its verdict Tuesday afternoon after two and a half hours of deliberations. They found 42-year-old Michel Escoto, who acted as his own defense attorney, guilty of first-degree murder in the 2002 death of his wife of only four days, Wendy Trapaga. The conviction carries a mandatory life sentence.

Prosecutor Gail Levine said, "We're happy for Wendy today."

Surrounded by loved ones, Myriam Benitez, Trapaga's mother, closed her eyes and said a prayer. Trapaga's family embraced as they left court shortly after the verdict was announced.

Escoto was not able to convince the jury even after defense attorney Terry Lenamon took over the case for closing arguments on Monday. "He didn't do a super poor job of managing his case, he did a super poor job of presenting his case," said Lenamon.

Lenamon said Escoto incriminated himself. "The jury selection process would have been much different, Yolanda Cerrillo's cross examination," said Lenamon as he added he would have made different choices, but Escoto would not give up control. "His personality is that this guy has serious, serious issues when it comes to obsessive compulsive control."

Escoto was found guilty of drugging, strangling, beating and killing Trapaga. "I think he kinda felt it was coming," said Lenamon.

Escoto was fingerprinted and handcuffed in court as a convicted murderer.

For more than a month, Escoto put on a show, questioning witnesses and defending himself in his own murder trial. "He is obnoxious," said a prosecutor.

"I'm not afraid of him," said Levine one day after Escoto was held in contempt of court for threatening a witness.

According to prosecutors, Escoto killed his 21-year-old wife so he could collect a million-dollar life insurance policy of which his newlywed wife had named him a beneficiary. They said Escoto convinced his young wife to take a life-insurance policy, and he then killed her with a tire iron after his original plan to drug and drown her did not work out as he had planned.

Escoto had tried to mitigate his involvement in the murder by saying that an ex-girlfriend, Yolanda Cerrillo, who received immunity in exchange for her testimony, was an accomplice in planning the murder.

However, on Tuesday afternoon, the jury found Escoto guilty. "I love the justice system," a juror told reporters as he left the courthouse.

"I think that he thought that he was more qualified," said Lenamon, "that he could put in the absolute most time to the case, and that he was the one who was going to manage the case the way he wanted to manage the case."

"I'm not saying that I could have done any better of a job," Lenamon continued, "but clearly, based on what happened over the last six or seven weeks, it didn't work out for Mr. Escoto the way that he wanted it to."

Sentencing has been scheduled for May 7. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez said the families of Escoto and Trapaga will have the opportunity to make any statements they wish on that date.


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