Michel Escoto found guilty of killing wife days after marriage

Jury convicts man who served as own attorney throughout trial

MIAMI – A man accused of killing his wife three days after they were married has been found guilty.

It took jurors about 2 1/2 hours Tuesday to convict Michel Escoto of first-degree murder after sitting through the month-long trial.

Escoto was accused of killing his wife, Wendy Trapaga, in 2002 to collect her $1 million life insurance policy.

Now he'll spend the rest of his life in prison.

Escoto had been serving as his own attorney throughout the trial until Monday, when he had his stand-by attorney, Terry Lenamon, give the closing arguments.

It was the latest antic by Escoto after about a month of testimony often punctuated by dramatic disruptions.

Escoto's ex-girlfriend, Yolanda Cerrillo, testified that she helped him plot his new bride's death. Throughout his cross examination, assistant state attorney Gail Levine raised an objection and called him "obnoxious" as he attempted to defend himself.

Then there was the moment when Escoto threatened a witness who surmised that he killed his wife to collect her life insurance money. The judge held him in contempt of court.

His actions prompted Levine to call him "a time bomb waiting to explode." She then asked that the configuration of the room be changed so she wasn't pinned against the wall in case he lashed out again.

Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez warned against any outbursts before the verdict was read.

Lenamon said he wasn't surprised by the verdict.

"The jury, I believe, just did not like him because he was painted out as an unlikeable person," Lenamon said.

Lenamon said Escoto had "some significant deficits that he should have been dealing with before he became his own lawyer."

Levine said she was "very, very pleased."

"We're happy for Wendy today," she said.

Escoto was fingerprinted and led out of the courtroom in handcuffs as he awaits his May 7 sentencing date.

Lenamon said he will file an appeal.