CLEVELAND – An Ohio doctor accused of lacing his wife's calcium supplement with cyanide so he could be with his mistress was convicted Friday of aggravated murder.
The jury heard weeks of testimony before returning the verdict against Dr. Yazeed Essa, 41. His wife, Rosemarie Essa, collapsed while driving Feb. 24, 2005, and crashed her car into another vehicle about five miles from the couple's home.
Essa was an emergency room doctor in Akron but fled to Lebanon after his wife's death. Last year, he gave up an extradition fight and was returned from Cyprus to Ohio. With Friday's verdict, he now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 20 years.
As the verdict was announced, family members of Rosemarie Essa held hands. Some cried and one quietly said "Oh" when the verdict was read. After jurors left the courtroom, the victim's family hugged police and prosecutors.
Her brother, Dominic DiPuccio, said the family was delighted with the jury's decision.
Deputies stepped forward and handcuffed the doctor. He turned to his brother and other family members, and nodded. He flexed his fingers of his cuffed hands as Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Deena Calabrese set sentencing for Tuesday.
While leaving the courtroom, defense attorney Mark Marein said: "We're disappointed." Essa's relatives would not comment.
Assistant Prosecutor Steve Dever said the state had a good case and the jury accepted the circumstantial evidence. He noted that the jury at one point requested to see one of the cyanide-laced calcium pills.
"I think they wanted to get the pill to actually figure out how you could do it, the mechanics of actually unloading the one calcium pill then putting it together again so it wouldn't be noticed," he said.
A juror who, with others on the panel, spoke to reporters after the verdict said jurors were surprised by Essa's stone-faced demeanor throughout the trial, especially when photos of his wife and two children were presented. The doctor's reaction was "no expression, no tears, nothing," she said.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Essa was trying to escape a loveless marriage and wanted to live with his mistress. The defense portrayed the doctor as easily moving between mistresses and a storybook life with a wife, two children and personal wealth. The defense claimed a mistress wanted to marry the doctor and had a motive to kill his wife.
But Essa's brother, who had testified earlier that the defendant denied poisoning his wife, returned to the witness stand later to change his testimony, telling jurors the defendant admitted to the killing.
Firas Essa said the admission came in 2006 at a Cyprus jail, where Yazeed Essa was detained after fleeing the U.S. Firas Essa said he changed his testimony to avoid the risk of perjury and obstruction charges and potential prison time.
A nurse who was the defendant's mistress testified that Essa asked before his wife's death if she would stay "if something bad were to happen."
Essa wore his wedding band throughout the trial, but did not testify, apparently changing his mind at the last minute after the judge encouraged him to think it over.
Rosemarie Essa, 38, died after taking the calcium tablet and crashing her SUV into an oncoming car near the couple's home in Gates Mills. No one was injured in the other vehicle. Yazeed Essa, a Detroit native whose family is from a Palestinian territory, was an emergency room doctor at Akron General Medical Center and fled to Lebanon after police seized drug bottles at his home.