Dateline | January 11, 2013
>>> in october 2012 , when giselle esteban went on trial for the murder of michelle le, prosecutor butch ford expected he'd have his hands full.
>> i thought she would fight tooth and nail that she didn't do it because she didn't want her family and more importantly, probably her kids to know that she's responsible for that.
>> so in his opening statement ford laid out a devastating case, all pointing to pre-meditated first-degree murder. motive? tons of it. esteban's life was in shambles, said ford. she lost custody of a daughter, her boyfriend left her. she blamed it all on her successful, too beautiful friend michelle and set out methodically to kill one of the few people left in the world when still tried to be her friend. why did she sneak into her school? to find michelle 's new address and maybe kill her there, said ford. why did she send the texts from the chuck e. cheese ? to cover up her crime. she couldn't hide from the cameras, the phone ping, her own electronic trail and the dna in the car confirmed it. the evidence was overwhelming, just no refuting it, said ford, and so the defense didn't even try. instead, they did something wholly unexpected, a big surprise. giselle admitted she did it.
>> so you're putting all of these building blocks together to show that she had to be responsible for this.
>> and she goes and admits it.
>> yes. i could not believe she would allow her defense to be i did it.
>> but there was a reason, said the defense . giselle had been provoked. she killed michelle in the heat of passion. michelle , she claimed, was a lying schemer who had been busy stealing what little giselle had left in life, her family. mark klaas watched from the back of the courtroom and was disgusted.
>> i don't think character assassination is a defense . i think that if you're going to defend against the indefensible, you have to find a better way of doing it than to vilify the victim.
>> but ford was worried. the defense just might work.
>> if i come in as a defense lawyer and i say we're going to tell you that my client did it even though the district attorney has the burden of proof , but we're going to tell you why it happened because that's the most important thing.
>> that's something the d.a. can't tell you.
>> exactly. and it has an air of credibility.
>> and thus, is not first-degree murder.
>> yes. a voluntary manslaughter and then you get out in nine years.
>> so that was the big fight?
>> there was another problem, even as ford methodically laid out the evidence for the jury, what he couldn't do and this turned out to be a big hole in this case was tell the jury how the murder took place. michelle 's remains were so decomposed the coroner couldn't determine the cause of death .
>> the pathologist report indicated they not only visually examined michelle 's remains and examined it using an x-ray to look for any sort of trauma to her skull or bones or anything of that nature and they,n't locate any.
>> while the security cameras seemed to locate everything before and after the murder, it didn't capture the crime itself.
>> it's my position that the evidence of the crime is most supported by an assault with a sharp object, a stabbing object, a knife, a box cutter , something of that effect. truthfully, i believe that she snuck up behind her, grabbed her by her hair and assaulted her with a sharp object.
>> which would explain why that small woman could do that woman would do that.
>> it immediately incapacitates you, the forensic evidence , the blood evidence and all of that indicates that type of assault. the only person who knows for sure is giselle .
>> but she wasn't talking. choosing, instead to sit passively throughout the trial.
>> she would look at the jury thinking, are they buying this? are they believing all of this nonsense that -- that the defense is offering up, you know? that this is heat of passion? that this wasn't planned?
>> michael was in court every day as was krystine and the aunts and uncles and parents and cousins. all of them took time off work to be united for michelle .
>> oftentimes in homicide cases nobody shows up for the victim or maybe it's a mother or father or a sibling. in this case every day there were between i would say 12 and 20 family members and knowing that the vast majority of them had traveled from san diego to be present, to show everybody that michelle was missed -- it was -- it was really touching to me and inspiring in that again, it made me want to work even harder to ensure that i had done everything i could to bring about what was a just result and i had mentioned that was the only thing i promised to the family was that i would work as hard as i could to make sure that the right result came.
>> do you encounter families like that very often?
>> on that level, no.
>> when the case went to the jury everything was up in the air. prosecutor ford didn't worry particularly when the jury stayed out a full day. even when it stayed out two days. after three days, ford began to wonder if he'd done enough to debunk giselle 's heat of passion defense . after four, everybody wondered.
>> the longest deliberation i'd ever had was four days. this was now getting to four and a half days so i started to have concern.
>>> coming up, day five and the suspense is over. the jury sends word of a verdict.
>> we were all holding hands in the front row .
>> will there be justice for