OAKLAND (CBS SF) – Giselle Esteban was convicted Monday of first-degree murder for the death of nursing student Michelle Le, her former friend and high school classmate, in May 2011.
Jurors deliberated for four and a half days before reaching their verdict against Esteban in a case in which prosecutor Butch Ford said she killed Le in the misguided belief that she was having a romantic relationship with Scott Marasigan, the father of Esteban’s 6-year-old daughter, and was interfering with her relationship with Marasigan.
Le, a 26-year-old San Mateo resident who attended Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, disappeared from Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Hayward on May 27, 2011. Her body was found in a remote area between Pleasanton and Sunol about four months later.
In his closing argument in Esteban’s trial, which began Oct. 1, Ford said Esteban, a 28-year-old Union City woman, had planned Le’s murder for months and waited for Le in the hospital’s parking lot for about four hours before attacking Le when she walked to her car during a break in her classes.
Esteban’s lawyer, Andrea Auer, admitted to jurors that Esteban killed Le but said Esteban should only be convicted of voluntary manslaughter because Le had provoked her and she acted in the heat of passion.
Auer conceded that Esteban had sent dozens of threatening text messages and waited for Le in the Kaiser parking lot and there was some type of confrontation, but she said, “You don’t know who started it, what was said and what happened.”
However, Ford, who described Esteban as “a sociopath,” said Le was “a completely innocent victim in this case” and didn’t do anything to provoke Esteban.
Esteban, who was dressed in a long-sleeved white shirt and black pants, looked straight ahead and didn’t appear to show any emotion when the jury’s verdict was announced Monday.
Le’s father, Son Le, said afterward, “I know Michelle will rest in peace now that justice has been done. Michelle loved everybody and this is just so sad.”
Le’s brother, Michael Le, said, “I feel a tremendous burden has been lifted by the jury’s verdict.”
Le’s cousin, Kristine Dinh, said Le should be remembered for “being so selfless and loving and always helping others.”
Marasigan, 28, was present for the verdict but didn’t comment afterward.
Le and Esteban were high school friends in San Diego and both came to the Bay Area to attend college.
Marasigan testified that he met Le through Esteban and dated Le for about a month in the spring of 2003 but never had sex with her, although they remained friends after he started seriously dating Esteban later that year.
Marasigan said he and Esteban had an on-again, off-again relationship for many years but ultimately broke up and Marasigan was awarded custody of their daughter.
Although Esteban didn’t testify in the trial, Auer said in her closing argument that she thinks Esteban never believed Marasigan’s repeated statements to her that he never had sex with Le.
Referring to Esteban, Auer said, “almost nothing would sway her” from her belief that Marasigan and Le had a sexual relationship.
She said Esteban became suspicious in 2005, when she was pregnant with the couple’s daughter and learned that Le had confided in Marasigan that she also was pregnant but planned to have an abortion.
Auer said Esteban became pregnant a second time in early 2011 and thought that Marasigan was the father but Ford said there’s no proof that Marasigan is the father of the second child, who was born in November 2011.
Although Marasigan and Esteban had been separated for several years as of early 2011, Esteban still wanted to get back together with him so they could raise their daughter together and thought she was losing him to Le, Auer said.
Ford said he doesn’t think Esteban acted in the heat of passion because if Esteban had been upset with Marasigan and Le in 2005 she had ample time to cool down before she killed Le in May 2011.
“Six years is clearly a long cooling-off period,” Ford said.
Esteban faces a term of 25 years to life in state prison when she’s sentenced by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson on Dec. 10.
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