Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Dec. 11, 2011.
Yolanda Cerrillo, a jilted lover, begged her ex-boyfriend to return - and then helped him plan the murder of his new bride.
Cerrillo helped him crush up Percocet pills into a powder to knock her out. She allowed him to dunk her own head into a bathtub, to practice how to drown the young woman. And when the murder was done, Cerrillo ferried him to the bay to dump the bloody tire iron he used to beat her to death.
Her version of events, recounted in a recently-released statement to authorities, provide a chilling blow-by-blow account of how authorities say Michel Escoto, 40, plotted the demise of his new bride, Wendy Trapaga, in a scheme to collect a $1 million insurance policy in 2002.
"So, it didn’t matter to you that she was killed or not, " Miami-Dade prosecutor Gail Levine asked Cerrillo during the August sworn statement.
"No ... it didn’t matter, " Cerrillo responded.
"As long as you were going to get him, you were happy?"
"Yes, " she replied.
Cerrillo’s statement offers vivid and damning details, bolstering a high-profile first-degree murder case that had been mostly circumstantial. Her testimony, however, is risky: prosecutors had no choice but to grant her immunity for murder, which could open her up to credibility attacks at trial.
Escoto, who is representing himself, declined to comment on Cerrillo’s allegations. He is jailed and facing life in prison. No trial date has been set but the case will likely be heard by a jury sometime next year.
He said in a statement:
"While we know that a great many of the allegations made by the prosecution in this case are not based in fact, and can prove as much, we believe that trial is the only appropriate and most effective venue in which to combat these allegations and demonstrate my absolute lack of involvement in this terrible crime."
Trapaga’s body - bloodied, beaten and strangled - was discovered in October 2002 next to a trash bin at a warehouse parking lot between the Palmetto Expressway and MiamiSprings.
She and Escoto were living together for a few months in a Miami Beach apartment. That month, they married and took off to Key West for an impromptu honeymoon.
Later, in Miami-Dade, they partied at La Covacha nightclub in Doral before spending a night at the Executive Airport Hotel.
He told detectives that when the two drove home afterward, they started to argue. He said he had felt that Trapaga had lied to him about being pregnant.
Miami-Dade homicide detectives long considered Escoto their chief suspect. But there was not enough evidence to charge him until 2005, after he dropped an effort in civil court to obtain the insurance money.
It was during sworn civil court testimony, Miami-Dade police said, that Escoto offered glaring inconsistencies about events the night of the murder.
Other evidence: a medical examiner’s investigator found sleeping pills, pain killers and anti-anxiety medicine inside Trapaga, meaning her body would have been so drugged up, she couldn’t have driven away after a fight with Escoto.
Several inmates also came forward with stories that Escoto implicated himself during jailhouse conversations.
One claimed Escoto told him he needed the insurance money because "he wanted to get back together with Cerrillo, but he had no money to impress her, " according to one police report. Escoto also allegedly told the inmate that he "crossed the victim’s legs" when dumping her body as a symbol that she could not ever have sex with anyone else.