Dateline | January 11, 2013
>>> giselle esteban readily admitted she killed her friend michelle le, but she claimed it was in the heat of the moment . she was angry, provoked by michelle . the defense which in a way blamed michelle for her own death. to friends and family sitting in the courtroom the strategy seemed outrageous and yet, after the jury had been out four long days they all worried, had it worked?
>> i was wondering if the jury sat in the same trial that i sat in.
>> we were going crazy. we were really afraid that either they felt sympathy for the defendant because she is a woman or that she has children or -- you never know.
>> by the fifth day we were thinking what if they let her off easy?
>> and then finally on the fifth day the jury announced they were ready. there could be no acquittal. their choices were first-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter, a verdict that could have esteban back on the street before she was 40.
>> i remember our hearts were pounded and being lined up and we sat down and we saw the jury walk in, and a couple of them -- you can just tell on their faces that they were exhausted. they looked exhausted and we were just all holding hands in the front row . they were all shaking and you could see butch he was just up there with his hands on his head and all were just praying and then we heard guilty of murder first, i burst right into tears. that feeling was just so indescribable. how much relief was there.
>> 17 months after michelle le went missing, after endless searches, a relentless investigation, a tense trial, finally an end. the search for michelle and for justice was over.
>> one of the things i was so angry about was that nothing made sense. nothing made sense. why did it have to happen to michelle , and so i think the verdict brought reason. the defense of someone committed a murder, they will pay for the crime.
>> it's just as awful as it was and the loss is just as great, but the world is back on its axis or something like that.
>> in some way, yeah.
>> how was it getting that verdict? what was it like?
>> in one word, relief.
>> what did your grandmother say?
>> she asked, how is michelle 's family doing? because i had talked to her about what a great family they were and i have nothing, but respect for that family and they had faith in the process and more than anything i appreciated that they had faith in me.
>> the le's family uncommon grace and dignity and determined togetherness infected many of the families that stood with them during those dark months. they were able to do what a lot of other families have never been able to do and that's rally around each other in a time of great need, to prop each other up.
>> michael and krystine now volunteer with mark klaas' organization. most recently helping to coordinate the search in the case of a teenager kidnapped near san jose . their way to honor michelle . michelle , who still refuses somehow to leave them.
>> she mainly comes in dreams and it's so real that it feels like her, and she won't say a thing. she'll just give me a hug or something. i would flip out, michelle , where the heck have you been? we had this huge thing where we thought you were gone, you know? and she laughed and she said "i'm fine."
>> to michael , when he and michelle were little they begged their mother to tell them the old vietnamese folk tale of the woman in the moon who protects and watches over them. the tale is very real now for michael le.
>> i feel like -- i feel like they're always watching me, and, you know at the very least i'd like to believe that my sister is with my mom finally and that they're together. it's not my time yet, but i can't wait to see them again.
>>> that's all for this edition of "dateline." we'll be back again next friday at 9:00, 8:00 central and i'll see you tomorrow morning on "today." i'm lester holt . for all of us at nbc news. good night.