Suspected Killer Cross-Examines Ex-Girlfriend in Own Wife’s Murder Trial
(MIAMI) — The Florida man who prosecutors claim murdered his wife three days after their wedding was involved in a bizarre courtroom spectacle on Wednesday when he cross-examined his ex-girlfriend after she testified that she helped him plan the killing.
Michel Escoto, 42, who is representing himself at his own trial, is accused of bludgeoning and strangling 21-year-old Wendy Trapaga after they were married in 2002 in Miami.
Prosecutors say Escoto killed his bride so he could collect her nearly $1 million life insurance policy.
Escoto has denied any wrongdoing.
The prosecution’s star witness is Escoto’s ex-girlfriend, Yolanda Cerillo, who agreed to testify against Escoto in exchange for immunity.
Cerillo testified on Tuesday, saying that, while she didn’t witness the murder, she helped her former boyfriend plan it because she was still in love with him.
Cerillo told the court that she and Escoto practiced different options for killing Trapaga, including drowning.
“We filled up my tub and then I got in the water,” she said.
When prosecutors asked Cerillo if she allowed Escoto to push her under the water, she replied: “Yes. I told him that wouldn’t work” because “the force of him holding her down would leave bruises.”
But during his cross-examination, Escoto tried to portray Cerillo as a jealous ex.
“I hated what she stood for. I hated what she was. I don’t know. I hated that you left,” she said, sobbing on the stand.
He then asked her: “Did you wish she was dead?”
She responded: “I wished she would go away.”
Escoto’s self-representation has become a courtroom spectacle. He has stumbled through the proceedings, and even literally tripped in the courtroom.
Speaking to the judge after the jury had left, prosecutor Gail Levine called Escoto’s courtroom behavior “obnoxious.”
The attorney supporting Escoto in his defense, Terry Lenamon, said Escoto has a plan with his courtroom behavior.
“If anyone knew the case it was him and he knew exactly how he wanted to defend it,” Lenamon said.
On Monday, Escoto came face-to-face with his former mother-in-law, who testified that she never understood why her daughter had taken out such a large life insurance policy.
“Do you think I killed Wendy?” Escoto asked Myriam Benitez.
“I never thought you would be capable of something like that. You were her husband,” she replied.
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