MIAMI (AP) — A South Florida man was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for killing his wife of four days to collect a $1 million life insurance policy.
A Miami-Dade County judge sentenced Michel Escoto, 42, after a jury convicted him last month of first-degree murder.
Escoto was newly married to Wendy Trapaga, 21, when he strangled and beat her to death in October 2002, 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 Jacuzzi at Miami's Executive Airport Motel, but he couldn't get her to stay under water. He finally beat her to death with a tire iron outside a warehouse later that night, prosecutors said.
Family members of the victim were allowed to speak at Wednesday's hearing.
"Wendy was my life, my joy, my reason for living," said Trapaga's mother, Myriam Benitez.
"I have to go to the cemetery to put flowers on our daughter's tomb," Benitez said, describing her plans for Mother's Day this weekend.
The lead witness against Escoto was his ex-girlfriend, Yolanda Cerrillo, The Miami Herald (http://goo.gl/qbch2Q) 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 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, and he has remained in jail since then.
Escoto represented himself during his murder trial. At one point, the judge found him in contempt of court for threatening a witness on the stand.
Information from: The Miami Herald, http://www.herald.com