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Doctor guilty in wife's cyanide murder

By Ann O'Neill and Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
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Doctor convicted of murder
  • NEW: "There was no dispute that he gave her the pills," juror says after verdict
  • Yazeed Essa was convicted of lacing wife's calcium supplements with cyanide
  • Prosecutors say Essa wanted to replace his wife with his mistress
  • Jury deliberated about 18 hours over three days

(CNN) -- A former Ohio emergency room physician was convicted of aggravated murder Friday in the 2005 poisoning death of his wife.

Jurors deliberated about 18 hours over three days before reaching a verdict in the case of Yazeed Essa, who was accused in the cyanide death of his wife, Rosemarie.

The courtroom in Cleveland, Ohio, was packed with Rosemarie Essa's family members, many of whom broke into tears when the verdict was announced shortly after 1 p.m. ET.

Prosecutors alleged during the six-week trial that Essa laced his wife's calcium supplements to escape a loveless marriage. He faces life in prison and would not become eligible for parole for 20 years.

During deliberations, jurors asked Judge Deena Calabrese whether they could break open a calcium capsule to determine whether that required any special skill or knowledge, a request the judge granted.

The trial included testimony from more than 60 witnesses who told the story of a philandering doctor, his many mistresses and an international manhunt that crossed three continents and ended with his arrest in Cyprus in October 2006, 18 months after his wife's death.

Video: Juror: 'no tears' from killer

Defense attorneys pointed to a lack of physical evidence linking Essa to the tainted supplements and urged jurors not to convict him for his playboy lifestyle.

The defense also attempted to cast suspicion on Essa's mistresses. Two of them testified, one saying she never loved Essa and another saying she believed him when he promised to be her soul mate.

After the verdict, jurors said Essa's lawyers did not convince them that the women were involved. Instead, they attributed their verdict to the cumulative effect of the evidence, from the capsules laced with cyanide to Essa's flight from the United States before a cause of death was announced.

"There was no dispute that he gave her the pills. It couldn't be disputed, and I think that is a main component," a male juror said after the verdict. "The bottom line is, one pill was given to her on the 24th, and that's what really matters."

Rosemarie Essa's friends said the 38-year-old mother of two and former nurse believed that she was in a happy marriage. She was driving to the movies in the family Volvo when she felt ill, passed out and hit another vehicle before rolling to a stop against a curb.

She died at a hospital. An autopsy revealed more than four times the lethal amount of cyanide in her system. Nine cyanide-laced capsules were found in her calcium supplements.

He doesn't want to get divorced from Rosie. He wants to replace Rosie.
--Steven Dever, prosecutor

Before she crashed, Rosemarie Essa called a friend from her car, prosecutor Anna Faraglia told jurors in her closing argument. Essa told the friend, Eva McGregor, that she was beginning to feel sick to her stomach and wondered whether a supplement her husband had given her was making her ill.

McGregor testified for the prosecution. So did the two mistresses: Marguerita Montanez said that they often trysted at a local Motel 6 but that the relationship was just about sex, and Michelle Madeline said that she fell hard for Essa and that he appeared to be in love with her.

Another prosecutor, Steven Dever, played a video clip for the jury of Madeline testifying about how Essa said she'd fit into his family.

"He had spoken to me, and he had said, 'You will be the only mommy that they remember.' He said, 'Rosie's parents will come to love you as a daughter.' "

Madeline also testified that she and Essa remained intimate after his wife's death, even while she took care of his children.

Dever said the testimony clearly showed Essa's motive.

"He doesn't want to get divorced from Rosie," Dever said. "He wants to replace Rosie. The defendant wants to end the relationship but continue the lifestyle he has grown accustomed to -- not as a divorced doctor but as a widower doctor."

The defense countered that that although he was a cad and a cheater, Yazeed Essa was no killer. Attorney Steven Bradley told the jury that Essa enjoyed his lifestyle and wouldn't jeopardize it. Because his wife was unaware of his infidelities, he had no motive to kill her, Bradley argued.

"Why would somebody turn their whole life upside down, put everything at risk that they've been working for?" Bradley asked.

It is difficult not to look over here with anything other than disgust and disdain.
--Steven Bradley, defense attorney

He acknowledged, "It is difficult not to look over here with anything other than disgust and disdain when you look at Yazeed Essa. But none of that is evidence. None of that proves anything."

Bradley said nothing directly proved that Essa laced the calcium capsules or even gave one to his wife.

Prosecutor Dever got the final word before the judge read jurors 34 pages of instructions and sent them to the jury room at midday Tuesday to deliberate.

Dever pointed out that Yazeed Essa's brother, Faris, sent him money after Essa fled to Lebanon. After Essa was captured in Cyprus and was in jail, he admitted to Faris that he had poisoned his wife, Dever added.

"The coward gets out of Dodge, and he runs," Dever told the jury. "He leaves his children behind. There's no testimony about a goodbye. No testimony about a message being sent."

One female juror noted that throughout the trial, Essa did not display any emotion, not even when a picture of his wife and children was shown in court.

"When your kids ain't there, you're gonna miss them. You're gonna cry. No expression at all. He hadn't seen these kids in five years, no expression, no tears, no nothing," she said.

In his closing argument, Dever urged jurors to find the truth for the children.

"One day these children will go on a journey and come back to this room and try to find out what happened to their mother. What your decision will be will complete the accounting of the life of Rosemarie Essa," Dever said, urging jurors to find the truth.

"What they need to find solace is the truth," he said, drawing tears from Rosemarie Essa's family members. "Only with the truth can Rosie rest at peace. Only with the truth can justice be done."

In Session's Grace Wong contributed to this story.