MIAMI — A South Florida man was convicted of killing his wife Tuesday to collect a $1 million life insurance policy.
A Miami-Dade County jury found 42-year-old Michel Escoto guilty of first-degree murder. He faces a mandatory life sentence at a May 7 hearing.
Escoto was married to Wendy Trapaga, 21, for only four days in October 2002 when he strangled and beat her to death, prosecutors said. Escoto initially tried to drug Trapaga during their Key West honeymoon and make her death look like an accidental drowning, but Trapaga complained her drink was too chalky. He tried to drown her again several days later in a hot tub at a Miami motel, but he couldn't get her to stay underwater. He finally beat her to death with a tire iron outside a warehouse later that night, prosecutors said.
"He took her life, boldly, brazenly, for money," prosecutor Gail Levine said in closing arguments.
The lead witness against Escoto was his ex-girlfriend, Yolanda Cerrillo, the Miami Herald reported. With immunity from prosecution, Cerrillo told jurors she helped Escoto plan the murder, ground up the prescription painkillers to knock Trapaga out and even practiced with Escoto how to drown the young woman. She also admitted to driving Escoto away from the crime scene and taking him to dispose of the tire iron in Biscayne Bay.
Escoto initially told detectives that he and Trapaga got into an argument the night she was killed. He said they left the motel, and she dropped him off at their South Beach apartment before driving off. But homicide detectives were immediately suspicious of his apparently forced grief and the insurance policy.
Escoto eventually filed a lawsuit to collect the money but gave conflicting versions of what happened during the 2005 trial. The conflicting details led to his arrest.