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.
But it is Cerrillo’s new statement to police that offers a peek at how Escoto allegedly planned Trapaga’s demise in a methodical and calculating fashion:
Cerrillo, 38, an accountant from Homestead, first met Escoto at the New Horizons Computer Learning Center in West Miami-Dade in 2000, where they both worked.
A quick-moving romance developed. Escoto, she felt, was an excellent father figure for her daughter.
After they lived together for more than a year, their relationship fell apart over financial woes.
In June 2002, Escoto moved out suddenly. Cerrillo hacked into Escoto’s voice mail - to hear a young woman leave a message: "Babe, come home. The cable guy is here."
That woman was Trapaga. Cerrillo began barraging Escoto with angry phone calls. They agreed to meet outside a West Miami-Dade restaurant that August, according to her statement.
"He told me that he loved me, that the girl on the phone, 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."
He planned to kill her during Mardi Gras the following year, Cerrillo said.
She added: "I didn’t think it was true but I was happy because he was going to end up with me."
But a few days later, Escoto came over to Cerrillo’s house, claiming he was broke and needed to speed up his plan to kill Trapaga. Suddenly, Cerrillo told prosecutors, the plan seemed very real: Escoto showed her a stash of Percocet, the powerful painkillers, wrapped in paper.
Together, the two mashed up the pills to make a sleeping powder. "That he was going to give it to her in a drink and that he was going to drown her, and it was going to be an accident, " Cerrillo said.
Then, they went to the bathroom to the tub.
"He showed me how he was going to do it, and I told him that it would never work, because there would be evidence left behind, " she said. "There would be bruises from him pushing down on her. I suggested he use a towel [placed across her chest]."
Together, they practiced, with Cerrillo allowing him to dunk her head under water. Later, they bought a pager as a way of communicating, for fear police might have the ability to listen to their cellphone conversations.
Shortly before the slaying, Escoto called Cerrillo to say that Trapaga was pregnant - but claimed that it was a ruse aimed at her parents to rush their marriage along. Cerrillo agreed to watch their dog while they honeymooned in Key West.
When he returned to Miami-Dade the next day, Cerrillo told prosecutors, Escoto claimed the slaying had not gone through because "she has not liked the drink, that it was too chalky."
"Disappointment, " Cerrillo said at hearing the news. "I was upset that it had not happened."
The next day, Escoto told Cerrillo that the slaying would happen instead at the motel - and Cerrillo ended up footing the bill for the room.
That early morning, Escoto paged her (he later told police he was checking on Cerrillo’s sick daughter) and the two met outside her West Miami-Dade town house at about 3 a.m.
Escoto was in Trapaga’s white Nissan, she told prosecutors, and inside was another figure. "I just saw a shadow. I just assumed it was Wendy, " Cerrillo said.
In her own car, Cerrillo followed Escoto to the area near where the body was dumped. Escoto ordered her to drive around for about 25 minutes.
They met up soon after. According to Cerrillo: "I see a lot of blood on his hands and on him. I see a tire iron wrapped in a red rag, the smell of blood, his shoes. He put them on the floor of my car. I asked, What happened? He said, ’It’s done.’’
Cerrillo laid a jacket down on the front seat for to him to sit on - to protect the fabric from the blood drenched on his body, she said.
The two drove off, leaving Cerrillo’s car at the scene.
As they drove back to his apartment in Miami Beach, Escoto told Cerrillo that she refused to "go down" in the tub and admitted "he hit her over and over again until she didn’t move anymore."
En route to Miami Beach, Cerrillo stopped the car at Dodge Island, and Escoto hurled the iron and rag into the water. Right after, a uniformed police officer pulled up - but Cerrillo told him that her boyfriend was sick. The cop simply ordered them to move along.
Cerrillo dropped Escoto off at the Miami Beach apartment. A Miami-Dade garbage man found Trapaga’s body early that morning.
In her statement, Cerrillo admitted she lied to homicide detectives at first, and during the civil proceedings.
In 2007, after Escoto’s arrest, she told detectives of helping Escoto afterward - but did not mention helping him plan the slaying.
She did not reveal the extent of her planning until a second statement, given this year under subpoena, which gave her immunity as a witness.
Her lawyers did not return calls for comment. Trapaga’s family, which is suing Cerrillo for her involvement in Trapaga’s death, was stunned when she gave her full statement.
"We did feel she was definitely involved from the get-go, " said the family’s attorney, Jorge Borron.
"We knew she was involved but the statement totally surprised us. The detail in the statement is pretty devastating."