March 20--Twelve years after young newlywed Wendy Trapaga was found beaten to death in Northwest Miami-Dade, her former husband is headed to trial -- and he is acting as his own lawyer.
Michel Escoto is accused of murdering Trapaga, 21, of Miami Beach, for a $1 million insurance policy. Her body, bloodied, beaten and strangled, was discovered in October 2002 next to a trash bin at a warehouse parking in between the Palmetto Expressway and Miami Springs.
He is charged with first-degree murder. Opening statements are set Thursday morning before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez.
The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks.
Escoto, 42, has rejected the services of court-appointed lawyers Terrance Lenamon and Melissa Ortiz, who nevertheless will observe the trial as "stand-by" attorneys.
Miami-Dade homicide detectives long considered Escoto their chief suspect in Trapaga's slaying. But there was not enough evidence to charge him until 2005, when he dropped an effort in civil court to obtain a $1 million insurance payout on Trapaga.
During sworn testimony in the civil case, Escoto offered glaring inconsistencies about events the night of the murder, leading to the charges against him, Miami-Dade police said.
One of the key witnesses is Homestead accountant Yolanda Cerrillo, Escoto's ex-girlfriend who admitted to prosecutors in 2011 that she schemed with Escoto plan the murder.
Cerrillo said she helped Escoto crush up Percocet pills into a powder to knock out Trapaga. She also allowed him to dunk her own head into a bathtub, to practice how to drown the young woman.
Prosecutors say Escoto wound up beating Trapaga to death with a tire iron inside the Executive Airport Hotel. Cerrillo, who was given immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony, admitted to driving Escoto to Biscayne Bay to dump the weapon.
"He told me that he loved me, that ... he didn't love her, that it was a plan, that he was going to get an insurance policy on her and that she was going to die and that we were going to be together," Cerrillo told prosecutors. "That we were going to get married."
While Cerrillo can't be imprisoned for her role in the slaying, she has since been found liable in civil court as part of a lawsuit filed by the Trapaga family. In September, a jury ordered Cerrillo pay $44 million to the Trapaga family for the wrongful death claim.