Michel Escoto steps aside as attorney in his murder trial

Man accused of killing wife days after marriage turns to stand-by attorney

MIAMI – A man accused of killing his wife less than a week after they were married has stepped aside as his own legal counsel.

Michel Escoto had his stand-by attorney, Terence Lenamon, take over in his murder trial before closing arguments began Monday.

Escoto is accused of killing his wife, Wendy Trapaga, in 2002 to collect her $1 million life insurance policy. He had been serving as his own attorney throughout the trial.

"He thinks he's smarter than everyone else," assistant state attorney Gail Levine said during her closing arguments.

Levine portrayed Escoto as a controlling, manipulative and greedy schemer who conspired with his ex-girlfriend, Yolanda Cerrillo, to kill his wife. She received immunity to testify against Escoto during the trial.

"The defendant, after thinking and planning, repeatedly beat, strangled and caused a heinous murder of Wendy Trapaga," Levine said.

Trapaga's mother was in the courtroom as Levine reminded jurors that Trapaga's body was found in a northwest Miami-Dade County warehouse parking lot.

"Wendy, she was a sitting duck -- quiet, pretty," Levine said. "She was his best choice ever."

Lenamon urged jurors not to rush to judgment.

"The law is the law," he told jurors. "Don't ever forget it."

Much of his closing arguments were directed at the prosecution.

"Win at any cost: Is that what this is about?" Lenamon said.

Levine had the last word, telling jurors in her rebuttal that she is OK being the target.

"When you got nothing, it's OK," Levine said. "Pound on me and make it my fault. Because for a pretty long time during that closing, I thought I killed Wendy."

Levine said the trial is "so, so about" Escoto.

"Don't take your eye off the ball," she said.