DENNIS MURPHY reporting: (Voiceover) So ironic that Rosie Essa was just idling away a few hours that afternoon when she had only a few precious minutes remaining. But we never know, do we? It was February 2005. She was dashing to the movies to meet her sister Deanna at a matinee.
(Person driving; photo of Rosie Essa; trees; sunlight; telephone lines; driving through woods)
DEANNA: At the last minute, I mean, I was already in the movie theater, she had called and she said, ‘All right, I’m on my way.’ She said, ‘I’m leaving now.’
MURPHY: (Voiceover) No one knew it then, but Rosie’s nothing special trip to the movies that day from her nice home in suburban Cleveland would set in motion an international manhunt, something that became an excruciating five-year ordeal that would expose mistresses, secret bedrooms and new identities and would involve the FBI, the Middle East and murder. And all the intrigue and the lifetime of sorrow for so many began on the streets of a perfectly pleasant, moms, dads, kids and dogs kind of neighborhood, Gates Mills, Ohio. Rosie and her handsome doctor husband, Yazeed, or Yaz as he was known to one and all, lived here. She was a nurse. They met while working at the same hospital. At 36, he was proud that he, a man of humble roots, was able to provide his family with so much: the big house, the backyard pool, money for whatever they needed.
(Car on road; document; passport; airplane; airplane ticket; photo of Yazeed Essa; photos of Yaz and Rosie; photo of Rocco and Gee Gee DiPuccio; woman on witness stand; bedroom; passport; FBI Cleveland sign; freeway; pills; document; court in session; houses behind trees; Gates Mills welcome sign; photo of Rosie and Yaz; house exterior; photos of Rosie and Yaz; photos of Yaz; Rosie, Yaz, children on videotape)
Mr. YAZEED ESSA: (Videotape) Once upon a time...
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The kind of son-in-law Rosie’s parents, Rocco and Gee Gee DiPuccio, could regard as heaven-sent.
(Yaz and child on videotape; Dennis Murphy interviewing Rocco and Gee Gee)
Ms. GEE GEE DiPUCCIO: She’d send him for two jars of baby food, he’d come home with 36. I mean, he—everything he did, it had to be big and lots.
MURPHY: Was it in a show-off kind of way, or was he being generous?
Ms. DiPUCCIO: No, he—no, he was just...
(Voiceover) You know, I used to say to him, ‘I think God is so good to you in everything you do because you’re so giving to people.’
(Photo of Yaz and baby)
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Now, Rosie, her family would say, could not have cared less about the house, the cars, the status. She was down to earth and content with what she’d always had, not the least of it her close Italian-American family, where Sunday dinner at her parents’ was don’t miss.
(Photos of Rosie and children; photo of DiPuccio family; Gee Gee and Rocco at head of dinner table)
Ms. ROSIE ESSA: (Videotape) Silly. Where’s your teeth, silly?
MURPHY: (Voiceover) And of course the sun and moon of her life, two-year-old daughter Lena and four-year-old son Armand.
(Video of Rosie, Lena, Armand)
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Was she happy to be a mother?
(Video of Rosie and child)
Ms. DiPUCCIO: Oh, my God, are you kidding?
(Voiceover) She would just pinch their cheek and say, ‘I can’t believe I got these beautiful kids. I just love them.’ Her eyes lit up when she looked at her babies.
(Video of Rosie and children)
Ms. DiPUCCIO: They were her life.
Mr. Y. ESSA: (Videotape) Happy birthday. Say happy birthday.
Ms. ESSA: (Videotape) Sorry we’re missing your party.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) In fact, Rosie and Yaz, married for almost six years, were hoping for another child. She was taking prenatal vitamins. But she would never get to have another baby because Rosie’s 10-minute drive to the movies in her black Volvo SUV was going poorly. Her waiting sister had no idea what had gone wrong.
(Video of Rosie and children; photo of Rosie, Yaz and children; freeway; Volvo steering column; wheels on road)
DEANNA: I wondered, where is she? How come she’s not calling? I held my phone the whole time, just waiting for it to ring.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) As it turned out, for a few minutes, anyway, Rosie was on her cell with her friend of many years, a woman named Eva. She drove on Interstate 271 for just one exit, to Wilson Mills Road. That’s when Rosie’s SUV started veering erratically. Another driver noticed it.
(Person driving, dialing on phone; street lights; photo of Eva McGregor; car driving; Wilson Mills Road exit sign; car driving; Tara Tamsen)
Ms. TARA TAMSEN: I saw a black car cross over center and go back into the lane and hit a car.
(Voiceover) And the car just kept going.
(Person driving Volvo)
Ms. TAMSEN: And I’m thinking to myself, what is going on here? What is this woman doing?
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The Volvo eventually stopped. That’s when Tara Tamsen, a medical technician, pulled over and ran to see if she could help the woman in the car. She found a person in desperate shape.
(SUV on road; Tamsen driving; SUV on road)
Ms. TAMSEN: When I got into the car, the woman was limp, and next thing you know, she started vomiting.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Meanwhile, patrol officer David Schiciano of the Highland Heights Police Department had happened by. His dashboard camera recorded the accident.
(Dash cam video of SUV on road)
Mr. DAVID SCHICIANO: The female driver was sitting back, and she’s just gasping for air.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Rosie was rushed to the hospital. When word reached her family, they too raced to the emergency room, worried about her condition.
(Hospital signs; Hillcrest Hospital exterior)
Mr. ROCCO DiPUCCIO: I just prayed, you know, ‘Please, you know, let her live. If she’s—no matter how bad she’s, you know, broken up, we’ll take care of her, you know. But just please let her live, God.’
MURPHY: (Voiceover) In the ER, the doctors working frantically on Rosie almost an hour now allowed her husband, Yaz, an emergency room doctor himself, to observe. Rosie’s brother would be the one to deliver the bad news to his parents.
(Operating room; surgical gloves; operating equipment; heart rate monitor; emergency room; flatline; photo of Rosie)
Ms. DiPUCCIO: He looked at me. He was crying, and he went like this to me (shakes head no) and I just went down.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) It was sadly over for Rosie Essa at the age of 38.
Family was brought to a private room for a viewing.
(Video of Rosie; empty hospital room)
Ms. DiPUCCIO: When I saw her, I’m thinking, she looked like she was sleeping. I mean, there was not a mark on her.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Rosie’s mom remembered her daughter was born a preemie. She asked Yaz, the doctor, about the possibility Rosie might have had some physical ailment that no one knew about.
(Photo of Gee Gee and baby Rosie; photo of Rosie and Yaz)
Ms. DiPUCCIO: And I’m saying, ‘Oh, my God, she was so premature, what if there was something wrong with her heart’...
MURPHY: All those years, huh?
Ms. DiPUCCIO: ...‘that nobody caught?’
Ms. DiPUCCIO: And he says, ‘No, I don’t think so.’
MURPHY: This is Yaz to you?
Ms. DiPUCCIO: Yeah. He says, ‘But we may never find out what happened.’
MURPHY: And as the stunned family began to prepare for unspeakably sad arrangements, just hours after she’d passed away that friend named Eva, who’d been on the phone with Rosie right before her car crashed, got a hold of Dominic, Rosie’s brother.
(Voiceover) She repeated what were very probably Rosie’s last words.
(Photo of Rosie and Dominic)
MURPHY: It was literally unbelievable what Eva was suggesting.
DOMINIC: First thing I did was I went in the house and I pulled my brother out and I told him, ‘You are not going to believe what I just heard,’ repeated the story to him. We looked at each other like, ‘Now what the hell do we do?’
MURPHY: (Voiceover) What Eva said would nearly rip Dominic and his brother Rocky apart. How could they keep such a monstrous thing a secret?
(Dominic and Rocky with fire)
ROCKY: We wouldn’t tell our parents, we wouldn’t tell my sister Deanna, we wouldn’t tell anybody.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) They wouldn’t tell anybody what Eva had said and what she’d begged them to do.
(Person driving Volvo; photo of McGregor; surgical instruments; operating room)
DOMINIC: And she just kept insisting, ‘Promise me you’ll get a full autopsy.’
MURPHY: (Voiceover) When Bitter Pill continues.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The DiPuccio family turned to their church for strength in dealing with the loss of their Rosie. At just 38, snatched away far too soon in a slow motion car accident no one could comprehend, their beloved daughter and sister, mother of two and wife of Yaz.
(Open Bible; photo of Rosie and Lena; photo of Rosie; Rosie, Lena and Armand on video)
Mr. Y. ESSA: (Videotape) Look your mama. Look your mama. Looky mama!
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Yaz, Yazeed, had been born in Detroit, first generation Palestinian-American, son of a Ford autoworker. After medical school he’d become an emergency room doctor, but one with an entrepreneurial itch. He and his brother had become wealthy as partners in a satellite dish installation company. And back in 1999 when they married, Rosie’s parents felt it was a dream come true for their daughter.
(Photos of Yaz; photo of Yaz and Firas Essa; Dish1Up sign; Yaz and Rosie wedding video)
Mr. Y. ESSA: (Videotape) And I just think we got a beautiful future together.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) In the years they were married, Rosie’s mom and dad saw only a solid relationship.
(Photo of Yaz and Rosie)
Ms. DiPUCCIO: (Voiceover) When she got married, it was like a fairy tale.
(Wedding video of Yaz and Rosie)
Ms. DiPUCCIO: We loved him and we cared about him because there was nothing we could say we disliked.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) But now, after Rosie’s death, there was trouble brewing in the DiPuccio family. And it brought Rosie’s two siblings, Dominic and his younger brother Rocky, nearly to blows.
(Photo of Yaz and Rosie; Dominic and Rocky walking)
ROCKY: I’m not going to say it was confrontational, because in, you know, 41 years we’ve never had a physical...
MURPHY: It didn’t come to this, huh? (Murphy holds up fist)
ROCKY: No. It was close one night, though.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) It all started after a conversation just hours after Rosie’s death that Dominic had with his sister’s friend Eva.
(Dominic writing on computer; photo of McGregor)
DOMINIC: I said, ‘Rosie died. Rosie died.’ She’s hysterical. She proceeded to tell me that Rosie was talking to her on her way to the movie.
(Voiceover) And she said Yaz had given her a calcium pill before she left the house and she started to feel queasy. Rosie told her, ‘Well, I’m going to call Yaz to see if maybe this calcium pill’s making me sick.’
(Pill bottle with strewn pills; wheel on road; person dialing on cell phone whilst driving)
MURPHY: I’m hearing about some kind of a pill, he gave it to her. She is being made sick by it as he was talking to her with the phone.
MURPHY: And within an hour she’s dead.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) After the Eva conversation, Dominic called a family council of just the two brothers and their wives. They needed someplace private so they got into one car and drove to their church’s parking lot. Eva’s story seemed incomprehensible. Could there have been something wrong with the calcium capsule Yaz had given Rosie?
(Dominic, Julie, Rachel and Rocky standing around kitchen counter; car on road at night; parking lot; person dialing cell phone whilst driving; photo of McGregor; opened pill bottle)
DOMINIC: And we talked about it, and we called Eva again. And she just kept insisting, ‘Promise me you’ll get a full autopsy. Promise me you’ll get a toxicology report. Promise me, promise me, promise me.’
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Dominic’s wife, Julie, was dumbfounded.
(Murphy interviewing Dominic and Julie)
JULIE: How do you have this information come to you about somebody that is family?
(Voiceover) I mean, there was no way we were going to accuse him.
(Photo of Julie, Yaz and other person)
DOMINIC: (Voiceover) Let alone a guy that we knew that was in our family that we loved.
(Photo of Julie, Yaz and other person)
JULIE: And we trusted.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The brothers found themselves in opposite camps as far as strategy. Dominic the lawyer wanting to go slow, first let the coroner do his report, then see where they stood. Rocky and his wife, Rachel, were eager to take Eva’s story to the cops. Everyone, though, hoped that Yaz was blameless.
(Dominic, Rocky, Julie and Rachel in front of fire)
RACHEL: I remember thinking, feeling suspicious after that phone call, feeling like we need to do something with this information.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) In the dark of the parking lot, they made a compromise. Rocky would call the coroner the next day and ask for a thorough and full examination of Rosie’s body. There wouldn’t be made any mention of Eva’s suspicions.
(Church exterior; car in front of church)
ROCKY: The coroner’s going to find out how she died. I mean, this was a matter of two days, three days, four days, the coroner would come back and say this is what happened.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) And that’s what everyone wanted. They were desperate to know what had happened to Rosie. The two-car accident she’d been involved in had been a minor fender bender, and there appeared to be no serious trauma to to Rosie’s body. The next day the coroner performed an autopsy. Unwelcome news reached the DiPuccios quickly. Cause of death: unknown. More tests would be needed. The wait would only add more stress to an already stressful situation between Rosie’s two brothers. Their parents felt the tension.
(Photo of Yaz and Rosie; photos of SUV; photo of Yaz and Rosie; Cuyahoga County Coroner sign; surgical instruments; operating room; sink; pill bottles;
Rocky and Dominic on porch)
Ms. DiPUCCIO: They were going at each other. And I couldn’t understand this.
MURPHY: You could see it?
Ms. DiPUCCIO: I could see it. They were arguing and arguing, and I’m telling Rocco, ‘Oh, my God, talk to Dominic and Rocky. I don’t know what’s going on with them.’
MURPHY: (Voiceover) But how long could the brothers keep their secret from the rest of the family, especially when someone else was also growing suspicious?
(Dominic and Rocky walking; Christine DiCillo; photo of Rosie; house exterior)
Ms. CHRISTINE DiCILLO: As soon as I got off the phone, I said...
(Voiceover) ...‘I think he killed her.’
(Photo of Yaz)
MURPHY: (Voiceover) When DATELINE continues.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Rosie Essa died in a low-impact car accident, and almost two weeks later her family was still awaiting the coroner’s final report on the exact cause of her death. That’s when this woman on her own decided to get involved. And it’s that involvement that would later prove invaluable to the police.
(Photo of Rosie; car on road; Gee Gee and Rocco; DiCillo looking through book)
Ms. DiCILLO: I didn’t want to be the nosy neighbor in “Bewitched,” the Gladys Kravitz of the neighborhood coming up with these wild, convoluted ideas.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Christine DiCillo is a nurse who’d once worked with both Rosie and her doctor husband Yaz at a hospital. She hadn’t seen much of either of them in the previous five years. By coincidence, Christine lived right next door to Rosie’s friend Eva, and Eva told her about that last phone call with Rosie, about Yaz giving her a calcium capsule.
(DiCillo walking; photo of Rosie and Yaz; DiCillo walking; photo of McGregor; wheel on road)
Ms. DiCILLO: It was odd to me that just prior to leaving for a movie in the middle of the afternoon in a hurry that that was so necessary that he give her the pill. As soon as I got off the phone with Eva, I looked to my husband and said, ‘I think he killed her.’
MURPHY: Gut instinct?
Ms. DiCILLO: Immediately. Mm-hmm.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) So going simply on her gut instinct that something wasn’t right, and unknown to Rosie’s brothers, Christine called the authorities.
(DiCillo watching dishes)
MURPHY: But if you were wrong, Christine?
Ms. DiCILLO: Well, where could they take it? If I was wrong, there was no harm, no foul, and they could politely tell me that I was wrong and thank you for my help and I would go away.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Christine’s urgent request to check Yaz out made it to the desk of this detective. Gary McKee of the Highland Heights, Ohio, Police Department was already investigating Rosie’s car accident.
(Gary McKee at desk)
Detective GARY McKEE: I had never had met Christine DiCillo, and I didn’t know if she had an ax to grind with him. Whatever reason she didn’t care for him may not have been a valid reason. So I wasn’t approaching him as a suspect or even thinking that, you know, this guy’s a murderer.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Still, the detective had some facts that didn’t add up. A 38-year-old woman in good health suddenly dead in a fender bender. What’s more, the coroner couldn’t give him a cause of death. At minimum, he had to find out more about those calcium capsules Christine DiCillo had told him about.
(McKee at desk; photo of Rosie; SUV headlight; coroner’s office; toxicology report; pills; pill bottle)
MURPHY: You’re wondering if there’s a sad but benign explanation for her death. Is this tainted stuff or is she allergic to whatever was in it.
Det. McKEE: Exactly. I didn’t know exactly what I had.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The detective called Rosie’s husband, and he agreed to come down to the police station. That interview was recorded on an audiotape. The detective questioned the doctor about the calcium capsules.
(Photo of Yaz; Highland Heights police and fire headquarters; audiotape recorder; interview room)
Mr. Y. ESSA: (Audio recording) Two weeks before I was over at my mom’s house, and I thought about this as well. My mom had this older woman over and they were talking about osteoporosis and whatnot. And I’d been told—Rosie was there—that we should probably, you know, she’s over 35, she should probably start taking calcium supplements.
Det. McKEE: (Audio recording) So she’s not under the care of any specialist or anything? She didn’t have any health problems?
Mr. Y. ESSA: (Audio recording) No.
Det. McKEE: (Audio recording) Was she experiencing any unusual stress recently?
Mr. Y. ESSA: (Audio recording) No, life was good.
Det. McKEE: (Audio recording) Did you have any stressors in your marriage?
Mr. Y. ESSA: (Audio recording) Our marriage was fine.
MURPHY: So what’s your impression of this doctor, the guy everyone calls Yaz?
Det. McKEE: Well, he’s clearly a smart individual, very low key.
(Audio recording) Are the calcium pills and the prescription vitamins still at home?
Mr. Y. ESSA: (Audio recording) Mm-hmm.
Det. McKEE: (Audio recording) Would you mind if I followed you back to your home and collected those?
Mr. Y. ESSA: (Audio recording) No.
Det. McKEE: (Audio recording) That’d be great.
Mr. Y. ESSA: (Audio recording) Not at all.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Remember, Rosie and Yaz were trying to have another child, and she was prescribed prenatal vitamins. Detective McKee wanted all the pills Rosie was taking gathered up for testing, including the calcium capsules that Yaz said he bought for his wife. The interview over, the detective followed Yaz home.
(Photo of Rosie, Yaz, Lena and Armand; McKee driving)
MURPHY: When you got to the house, Detective, had his demeanor changed at all as you’re about to take a look at things?
Det. McKEE: No. We entered the home. There was a female seated at the kitchen counter on a stool. She was Marguerita Montanez.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Marguerita was the daytime nanny. Yaz had hired her to care for his kids after Rosie died. He also hired another woman to be the nighttime nanny. At the time, the detective thought nothing of Marguerita the nanny, though that would eventually change. For now, he was there only to get the pills from Yaz.
(Photo of Marguerita Montanez; photo of Lena and Armand; photo of Montanez; house exterior)
Det. McKEE: Before he retrieved the pills, he asked me, ‘Have you found the cause of death for my wife?’ And I said, ‘No, we haven’t.’ So then he reached up in the cabinet, retrieved the pills, but before he handed them to me, he said, ‘Why do you want these?’ And my response was, ‘You know, I just want to cover all the bases.’
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The next day, Yaz asked Rosie’s sister to watch his kids overnight. Then, in the middle of that night, she got an urgent call from him.
(Sun rising; Deanna on porch)
DEANNA: At 4 in the morning he left me a voice mail saying that his friend’s brother was in a bad car accident and they didn’t think he was going to make it.
(Voiceover) So he was going to go to North Carolina.
(Photo of Yaz)
MURPHY: The friend’s brother was apparently in bad shape. Yaz asked the DiPuccio family to watch his children through the weekend. But on Monday when the doctor was to return came a bombshell none of the DiPuccios could ever have imagined. Rosie’s brother got a call from his wife.
DOMINIC: Julie called and said, ‘Nobody can find Yaz.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘Nobody can find him.’ I found his friend, I found his number, I called him. I said, ‘How’s your brother?’ And he said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I said, ‘Well, Yaz told us he was down with you because your brother had been in a really bad car accident.’ And he said, ‘I haven’t seen Yaz—Yaz hasn’t been here all weekend.’
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Dominic went to Rosie and Yaz’s house and discovered something on the kitchen counter.
(Double yellow lines on highway; house exterior)
DOMINIC: It was an envelope that had obviously recently been opened. Postage stamp was just a couple days before. And it was an envelope that a passport would come in. I said, he’s gone. He’s gone.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) But could this father really have left behind his two children, children who’d just lost their mother three weeks before?
(Photos of Yaz, Lena and Armand)
Mr. DiPUCCIO: I says, he may—he may have done something.
Ms. DiPUCCIO: Yeah. I remember, too.
Mr. DiPUCCIO: And then I said, you know, it’s—forget that. You know, I’ve just lost my head. You know, pretend I didn’t say that.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) But the DiPuccios did have questions. What killed Rosie?
And why did Yaz disappear?
(Rocco and Gee Gee walking; photo of Rosie; photo of Yaz)
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Coming up, some answers are on their way. The autopsy comes in, along with a stunning revelation about those calcium pills.
(Photo of Yaz; lab equipment; pill being opened)
MURPHY: What were they filled with?
(Voiceover) When Bitter Pill continues.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Dr. Yazeed Essa was gone. Three weeks after his wife, Rosie, had died a puzzling death, he’d up and abandoned their two young children, his job as an ER doctor—just flat vanished. Rosie’s brother Dominic filed a missing person report with the police then headed down to Yaz’s house and started his own investigation.
(Yaz and Armand on video; Rosie and Lena on video; photo of Lena and Armand; emergency room entrance; ambulance driving; Highland Heights police and fire building; house exterior)
DOMINIC: My entire family spent the week at that house, and we were playing detectives, trying to figure out what happened.
MURPHY: What does the puzzle piece telling you?
DOMINIC: Rosie died on a Thursday. Less than 24 hours later he sends a blast e-mail to all his friends that says, ‘Just wanted to let you know that Rosie died yesterday in a minor car accident. She will be missed.’
MURPHY: That’s it?
DOMINIC: That was the e-mail.
JULIE: Mm-hmm. ‘She will be missed.’
MURPHY: His wife? The mother of his two children?
DOMINIC: That was his blast e-mail.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Through credit card transactions, Dominic eventually learned that Yaz had bought a plane ticket, final destination: Cyprus, the island in the Mediterranean.
(Credit card statements; plane ticket; scenes from Cyprus)
MURPHY: Dominic knew it was time to tell the entire family everything he and his brother Rocky had been keeping back—about the conversation their sister had with Eva just before she died, her story about Rosie feeling sick after taking a calcium capsule given to her by Yaz.
Are you the family saying out loud in one voice, ‘Yaz killed Rosie’?
DOMINIC: Some of us are. It took me a while. Really took me a while.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Suddenly Dominic and his wife’s family had grown, caring not only for their own four children, but now Rosie’s two children as well.
(Dominic and Julie on bench)
JULIE: They have not a mother, not a father. We don’t even know where to tell them where he went, what happened to him. ‘Where’d Daddy go?’ How do you answer that question?
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Then came even more devastating news. About four weeks after Rosie’s death, test results were in for the calcium pills that police took from Yaz’s home.
(Toxicology report; pills)
Mr. DiPUCCIO: You had suspicions and everything, but that of course nailed it.
MURPHY: And what were they filled with?
Mr. DiPUCCIO: Potassium cyanide.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Cyanide, a lethal poison. Nine pills were in the bottle that Yaz had turned over to police. It’s from that same bottle that he gave Rosie a capsule. And, sure enough, there was enough cyanide in each pill to kill a person within minutes. Rosie’s death was a homicide. But how could the man the DiPuccios loved so much, the son-in-law they thought had a near-perfect marriage with their Rosie, ever have killed her? Nonetheless, Dr. Yazeed Essa was now a murder suspect and international fugitive. The local police called in the FBI.
(Cyanide; pills falling out of pill bottle; photos of Rosie; capsule cracked open; photos of Yaz and Rosie; photo of Yaz and Lena; FBI badge)
Mr. PHIL TORSNEY: Initially he fled from Cleveland to Cyprus, and eventually we also obtained information through various sources that he had traveled to Beirut, Lebanon.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Phil Torsney is a seasoned FBI manhunter. The agent immediately knew he had a major problem. Yaz was virtually untouchable in Lebanon because that country doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the US. So Rosie’s husband was living freely in Beirut. The FBI knew it, and there was nothing they could do about it.
(Phil Torsney at desk; Lebanon; flag flying; people on streets in Beirut)
MURPHY: Even if we have eyes on the ground, you got an agent say, ‘I just saw him leave his apartment, go down to the bistro, he read the paper and he went home,’ you can’t move in and serve papers on him?
Mr. TORSNEY: Right.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Back in the US, Rosie’s family desperately tried to get Yaz to turn himself in. They held news conferences.
(DiPuccios at press conference)
ROCKY: (Press conference) What we’re doing today is making a plea to Yazeed, if he is watching, to come back to Cleveland and answer to the charges before him.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) By then the doctor had officially been charged with aggravated murder in the death of his wife. But it appeared he had no intention of coming back. Officials would later learn that Yaz took on a new identity, Maurice Khalife. He was a single, good looking guy always up for a party. Here he’s seen at a wedding. Months went by, then a year.
(Photo of Yaz; streets of Beirut; passport for “Maurice Khalife”; nightclub interior; photos of Yaz and other people)
MURPHY: Did you ever get the feeling he was thumbing his nose at you and all the other people looking for him?
Mr. TORSNEY: Yeah, I think so.
MURPHY: And what you have to do is lure him off the security of his home base where he’s safe in Beirut?
Mr. TORSNEY: We hope at some point he leaves the country.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) In October 2006, a year and a half after Rosie’s death, her mom and dad got a phone call from their local police chief.
(Rocco and Gee Gee on porch; portrait of Rosie; Rocco and Gee Gee on porch)
Ms. DiPUCCIO: And he said, ‘Are you sitting down?’ He says, ‘I have big news for you.’ Said, ‘We got him.’
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Yaz had finally slipped up. He’d left the security of Lebanon. The FBI was aware he was going to be on a flight into Cyprus’ Larnaca Airport. How they knew, they won’t say. But Cypriot police were waiting for the doctor when he got off the plane, and in Cyprus, unlike Lebanon, a person can be extradited to the US. But Yaz would fight every inch of the way to avoid facing aggravated murder charges in Ohio.
(Passport photo of Yaz; Beirut streets; airplane in sky; Larnaca Airport; airplane landing; airport entrance; street with cars; mug shot of Yaz)
Unidentified Man #1: (Videotape) That’s our guy!
MURPHY: (Voiceover) It wasn’t until January of 2009 that Yazeed Essa, the man in this grainy footage, was finally brought back to the United States.
(Video of airplane disembarkation)
Det. McKEE: (Radioing in) Fifty, go ahead.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) And Detective McKee, the Highland Heights, Ohio, officer who first started investigating Rosie’s death four years before was waiting for him.
(McKee driving; McKee at desk)
Det. McKEE: We put him in the back seat of a car, and I didn’t say a word to him.
MURPHY: You didn’t say, ‘Remember me’?
Det. McKEE: I think he did. I don’t think I had to say that.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Coming up, the one question no one had yet answered: Why would the doctor had wanted his wife dead?
(Photo of Rosie; open capsule; photo of Yaz; photo of Rosie and Yaz)
MURPHY: Are you asserting that there’s a little love nest, a little pad?
Mr. STEVE DEVER: Oh, yeah, there was a—I thought it was a play house, had come on over...
Ms. ANNA FARAGLIA: A love shack.
Mr. DEVER: Love shack, that was it.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) When DATELINE continues.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) For nearly five years the DiPuccio family had been waiting for this day. Dr. Yazeed Essa would finally face a jury for allegedly poisoning his wife, Rosie, with cyanide. Steve Dever and Anna Faraglia would prosecute the aggravated murder case for Ohio.
(Courthouse; court in session; Steve Dever and Anna Faraglia)
MURPHY: What’s the mission? How you going to go about it?
Mr. DEVER: The mission is to define his character and let the jury get another glimpse of who he is as opposed to how he appears there in the courtroom.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) As the trial started, the prosecution’s challenge was to convince the jury that Yazeed Essa was a Jekyll and Hyde, one face showing the emergency room doctor who saved lives and seemed the ideal husband, the other an evil poisoner who planned the murder of his wife, the mother of his two children.
(Court in session; photo of Yaz and Rosie; photo of Yaz, Lena and Armand; photo of Yaz and Rosie; photo of Rosie)
Mr. DEVER: (In court) So when you look across this room and you look at this man that you see here in the courtroom wearing that wedding ring, the picture that you’re going to get is that Yazeed Essa was living two lives.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Rosie’s sister-in-law may have seen one of those masks slip right after Rosie had died. She testified as to how cold and disrespectful Yaz had seemed in the way he treated his wife’s body lying on the hospital bed.
(Photo of Dominic, Julie, Rosie and Yaz; Rosie on video; Julie in court)
JULIE: (In court) Yaz walked over to Rosie and abrupt—very abruptly lifted her up and pulled the sheet down. And she was naked underneath. And he exposed her breast. And he tried to get the necklace off. And he just kind of got it off. And he just treated her very disrespectfully. I remember thinking, why is he doing that? Why is he treating her like that? That’s his wife.
Ms. FARAGLIA: (In court) The state calls Eva McGregor.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) If the prosecution had an indispensable star witness, it would be this woman taking the stand. Eva McGregor had been the friend on the phone with Rosie just moments before her car accident and death. Only Eva could point to Yaz as the source of that cyanide-laced calcium capsule Rosie had taken.
(Court in session; pills by ruler)
Ms. EVA McGREGOR: (In court) She had taken a calcium pill right before she left the—her house. She didn’t really want to take it. And she said, as she was in it, you know, rushing out the door, he said, ‘Here, take it. Take your calcium.’ ‘Now, I don’t know if that’s what’s making me sick.’
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The jury would get a lesson in poisoning. The court was told that cyanide isn’t something you can just buy over the counter, but the lethal stuff, according to this poison expert, is available only a mouse click away online.
(Photos of cyanide; court in session; eBay Web page)
Unidentified Man #2: (In court) There is a study done where they actually looked at eBay, there was two times when it came up that you could buy on eBay cyanide.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) And it turned out to be a snap to shake out the calcium in the capsule and replace it with cyanide.
(Capsule being emptied)
Man #2: (In court) You can literally just take, you know, a pen cap and you can scoop it with that and pour it right in.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) That may have been the killer’s methodology, but in the big picture the most damning fact against Yaz was his decision to flee. Would an innocent father have left his two children behind just weeks after their mother had died? For the story, the courtroom was taken to the Middle East to account for Yaz’s missing months in Lebanon.
(Capsule; Yaz in court; photo of Yaz, Lena and Armand; photo of Yaz; bay; people on street; freeway in Beirut)
Unidentified Woman #1: (In court) Good morning, sir.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) This man, Jamal Khalife, a kind of godfather Mr. Fix-it character, testified about how he helped Yaz live on the lam with virtually a new life and identity.
(Jamal Khalife in court)
Mr. JAMAL KHALIFE: (In court) I got the phone call from my brother that there’s somebody coming over and to take care of him.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The brother of Jamal the fixer had known Yaz’s family back in the United States. Jamal testified he put Yaz up in a Beirut apartment, got him a new passport and a new name, Maurice Khalife.
(Court in session; photo of apartment complex; fake passport)
Mr. KHALIFE: (In court) We have over there, support, in Lebanon.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) As he got to know the American doctor better, a stunning story about Rosie spilled out.
(Court in session)
Mr. KHALIFE: (In court) He told me the whole story, that his wife was leaving the home, going, I think, to a movie. He told me he grounded cyanide, refilled the pills and he give her two pills. Down the street she had a car accident and she died.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) A severe blow for the accused, a secondhand account of a confession from Yaz. And another witness was about to deliver an even more dramatic roundhouse punch.
(Court in session)
Mr. DEVER: (In court) Good afternoon, Mr. Essa.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Firas Essa, none other than the defendant’s own brother and business partner, took the stand as a prosecution witness.
(Court in session)
Mr. FIRAS ESSA: (In court) I asked him if he was responsible for her death, and he said yes.
Mr. DEVER: (In court) When you found out that information, what did you say to your brother?
Mr. F. ESSA: (In court) I told him he was a...(censored by station).
Mr. DEVER: (In court) And why did you say that?
Mr. F. ESSA: (In court) Because he took Rosie’s life, and I loved her. It was—he just ruined his whole family.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) It was crippling testimony. The brother, once an inseparable blood friend, had given Yaz an evidentiary kill shot. Nonetheless, there were still core problems in the prosecution’s overall case. It was entirely circumstantial and seemed to beg for a motive. Why would the doctor do it? Prosecutors answered by arguing that Yaz the family man wasn’t really when you took a closer look. It turned out he had scads of women on the side. He was a doctor with a first-degree cheating heart.
(Court in session; photos of Yaz and Lena; photos of Yaz)
Mr. DEVER: (In court) Every Wednesday night he would spend with his girlfriend, with his mistress at her apartment.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Girlfriends, mistresses, sex partners, and lots of them. Jurors were even shown photos of a hidden-away bedroom in the building where he and his brother had their business.
(Photos of Yaz; photo of Montanez; photos of love shack)
MURPHY: Are you asserting that there’s a little love nest, a little pad?
Mr. DEVER: I thought it was a play house that he had to come on over...
Ms. FARAGLIA: A love shack.
Mr. DEVER: A love shack, that was it. Yeah, that was a place that he would use the apartment over there from time to time to bring his lady friends.
Woman #1: (In court) Good afternoon.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) And one of those lovers had been Marguerita, the daytime nanny. She was the woman the detective saw sitting in Yaz’s kitchen when he first went to collect the calcium caps. Marguerita, it turned out, had had a long-term sexual affair with Yaz, an affair Rosie evidently knew nothing about.
(Montanez in court; pills being emptied from bottle; court in session)
Ms. MARGUERITA MONTANEZ: (In court) In 2001, we began a sexual relationship.
Mr. DEVER: (In court) Why did you become involved in a relationship with the defendant while you were married?
Ms. MONTANEZ: (In court) Me and my husband were having problems, and I thought I was going to get a divorce.
Mr. DEVER: (In court) So did this begin an affair with the defendant?
Ms. MONTANEZ: (In court) On occasion. It wasn’t a love affair or anything.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Marguerita described it as a friends with benefits type of relationship with Yaz, purely sex.
(Photo of Yaz by photo of Montanez)
MURPHY: But the prosecution asserted Yaz had a deeper, more complicated relationship with another woman, Michelle Madeline. Now, she was the so-called nighttime nanny for his children. Michelle was also someone, prosecutors say, who fell in love with the doctor and he with her.
Mr. DEVER: (In court) State’s exhibit 125.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) To make the point, jurors were shown a camisole like this one, an intimate Valentine’s Day gift from Yaz to Michelle just two weeks before Rosie’s death. A representative of the company that shipped the nightie read the card that was enclosed.
(Court in session; camisole; woman on witness stand)
Unidentified Woman #2: (In court) “Next Valentine’s Day will be all ours. I love you with all of my being, Yaz.”
Ms. FARAGLIA: He’s indicating to this paramour that next year is going to be “all ours.” It’s kind of a foreshadowing of, ‘She won’t be around next year.’
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The mistress, the nighttime nanny, was called to the stand.
(Court in session)
Ms. MICHELLE MADELINE: (In court) I had a romantic relationship with him.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Michelle testified that she was a nurse who’d met Yaz on the job. She asked for and received a court order to obscure her image while testifying.
(Court in session)
Ms. MADELINE: (In court) He was telling me that he was so unhappy in his marriage, and I was the love of his life and I was his dream come true. And he was going to leave her so that our relationship could continue.
Mr. DEVER: She’s pushing back saying, ‘No, I can’t be with a married man.’ And he can’t take no for an answer. And that’s his motivation. That’s what puts him on this path.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) A path, the prosecution argued, that led directly to murder. The one-time mistress shared with the court Yaz’s supposed true feelings for his wife, Rosie.
(Photo of Rosie; court in session)
Ms. MADELINE: (In court) He wasn’t in love with her, according to what he told me.
Mr. DEVER: (In court) OK.
Ms. MADELINE: (In court) And that he was in love with me. He would say she was a good person, but she was cold. He would call her Amana.
Mr. DEVER: (In court) Amana. What does that mean?
Ms. MADELINE: (In court) The refrigerator brand.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Rosie’s family, taking in the testimony, were devastated by the mistress’s recollections.
(Court in session)
ROCKY: The way he humiliated her, and on top of everything that he had done to her, to belittle her or to make fun or to mock her with his mistress is, you know, sick.
Mr. DEVER: (In court) Your honor, at this time the state of Ohio would rest its case.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The prosecution had put together a compelling story about a deceitful murderous husband, but the defense was about to rise and offer a completely different theory of the crime. In fact, the jury had already met the true killer in court, and it wasn’t Yaz Essa.
(Dever in court; photo of Yaz and Rosie; court in session)
MURPHY: (Voiceover) After all, the defense will argue, if the doctor was guilty, why hadn’t he dumped those cyanide-filled pills?
(Court in session; photo of cyanide; photos of pills)
MURPHY: If he has successfully killed his wife with them, why hold on to the stuff?
Mr. STEVE BRADLEY: Precisely.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Who else had the motive and the means to kill Rosie?
When Bitter Pill continues.
Mr. MARK MAREIN: (In court) What a good marriage Rosie had with Yaz.
Our mandate is to do the best job that we can and to bring home that W, bring home that not guilty.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The defense for Yaz Essa came down to this. Sure, he had lots of women on the side and he got away with it. So why did he need to kill his wife? His two defense lawyers, Mark Marein and Steve Bradley, told the jury straight out the defendant was never going to be a husband of the year.
(Yaz in court; photo of Yaz by photo of Montanez; photo of bed; photo of Yaz and Rosie; court in session)
Mr. BRADLEY: (In court) Yazeed Essa regularly always maintained numerous sexual relationships with other women.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) But, they insisted, a cheater doesn’t necessarily make a murderer, especially a doctor who was planning a bigger family.
(Yaz and Mark Marein in court; photo of Yaz and Lena)
Mr. BRADLEY: (In court) Yazeed Essa did not commit this crime. He did not intentionally poison the mother of his two young children, the woman with whom he was actively trying to conceive a third child and add to their family, something they both wanted.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) If he were the heartless philanderer portrayed by the prosecution, then how come Rosie’s family liked him so much?
(Court in session)
Mr. MAREIN: (In court) Did she have a good life?
DEANNA: (In court) Yes.
Mr. MAREIN: (In court) It appeared that they had a pretty sound marriage, yes?
DEANNA: (In court) Yes.
MURPHY: The marriage, to their friends and to her family, is a loving, good, viable marriage.
Mr. MAREIN: By all accounts, they had a great marriage.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The prosecution theorized that he killed Rosie to be with his mistress named Michelle. The defense’s response was that Michelle was just another take-a-number girlfriend.
(Court in session)
Mr. MAREIN: Michelle meant nothing.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Add it up, argued the defense, and you had a respected doctor with no money worries, a nice family and as many girlfriends on the side as he could juggle. Bottom line: He had no reason to kill Rosie.
(Court in session; house exterior; photo of Rosie, Lena and Armand; photo of Yaz, Montanez on witness stand, camisole; Yaz in court)
Mr. BRADLEY: (In court) There’s no reason for him to have separated his children from their mother and their father.
To do something as dramatic and extreme as poisoning your wife requires some strong motive, and it wasn’t present here.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) And then there was the way he behaved early on. Would a guilty man have turned over to the police that bottle of calcium capsules if he knew full well the lab would find cyanide in nine of them?
(Yaz in court; pill bottle; pill bottles and ruler)
MURPHY: Maybe the biggest puzzler.
Mr. MAREIN: Right.
MURPHY: If he’s contaminated these caplets and he’s successfully killed his wife with them, why in the name of all things we know from television shows would you hold on to this stuff?
Mr. BRADLEY: Precisely.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The defense went after the police for sloppy handling of evidence. The detective who’d poured the capsules into his bare hand after collecting them.
(Evidence bags of cyanide capsules; McKee in court)
Mr. BRADLEY: (In court) Are you telling us that you made a mistake?
Det. McKEE: (In court) In hindsight?
Mr. BRADLEY: (In court) Yes.
Det. McKEE: (In court) Yes.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The forensic expert who didn’t check for prints.
(Man on witness stand)
Mr. BRADLEY: (In court) The pill bottle itself would have been conducive to leaving ridge detail, correct?
Man #2: (In court) Yes.
Mr. BRADLEY: (In court) To be clear, then, nobody ever made that request.
Man #2: (In court) No, sir.
Mr. MAREIN: There was a catastrophe in terms of forensics here.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) And even though the court had learned how easy it was to obtain cyanide, there was no evidence presented that Yaz had actually done that. Still, the stark fact at the epicenter of the case against Yaz Essa was his decision to flee the country. How could that be anything other than the action of a guilty man? The defense spun it this way: Yaz early on had talked to a lawyer who advised him he might be facing the death penalty if charged with a murder.
(Court in session; cyanide; photo of Yaz and Rosie; people on streets of Beirut; fake passport; cars on freeway; passport photo of Yaz; Steve Bradley in court)
Mr. MAREIN: Yaz was led to believe that he could be charged with capital murder, and he just freaked out.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Then, of course, his lawyers had to defuse those explosive allegations from the Lebanese fixer and his own brother that he’d admitted to poisoning Rosie.
(Court in session)
Mr. F. ESSA: (In court) I asked him if he was responsible for her death and he said yes.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Both witnesses had lied on the stand, according to the defense, because each had cut a deal with the prosecution for leniency on charges they were facing.
(Court in session)
Mr. MAREIN: It was the proverbial get out of jail card.
Woman #1: (In court) You’re free to step down.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The brother, for instance, was looking at almost 12 years in prison for helping Yaz on the lam. He took a deal.
(Firas Essa in court)
Mr. MAREIN: He’s got five kids all under the age of 12 years. He employs 100 people. He’s got a lovely wife, a beautiful home, and his world is about to collapse on him.
MURPHY: So was Firas well-advised in terms of his own survival strategy to sing for his supper?
Mr. MAREIN: That’s what we believe.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Jamal the fixer had been a fugitive wanted by the United States.
(Khalife in court)
Mr. MAREIN: (In court) Were you indicted in a 29-count indictment...
Mr. KHALIFE: (In court) I was.
Mr. MAREIN: (In court) Just listen to my question!
Mr. KHALIFE: (In court) Don’t scream in my face.
Mr. MAREIN: (In court) Listen, sir! Listen to my question.
The more he talked the better off we felt we were.
MURPHY: Bad guy who’s trying to cut a deal?
Mr. MAREIN: Precisely.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) So if Yaz Essa didn’t do it, who did? The jury had already met her, argued the defense. It offered up Marguerita, the daytime nanny, as the true killer.
(Yaz in court; empty jury seats; photo of Montanez)
Mr. BRADLEY: (In court) She is one of the women that Yazeed maintained a long-term, ongoing sexual relationship.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Marguerita had a motive for wanting Rosie out of the picture, argued the defense. She and Yaz had kept their sexual relationship going even after both had married, and don’t believe this portrait of her as a casual friends-with-benefits lover, claimed the defense.
(Photo of Rosie; photo of Yaz by photo of Montanez; Montanez in court)
Mr. BRADLEY: (In court) Marguerita very much wanted to marry Yazeed.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) And, they claimed, Marguerita was so obsessed with Yaz that she scheduled her own wedding for the same day as Yaz’s marriage to Rosie.
(Yaz in court; photo of Yaz and Rosie)
Mr. BRADLEY: (In court) Are you telling us that it is an absolute coincidence that you selected the same wedding date as Yazeed? Is that what you’re telling us?
Ms. MONTANEZ: (In court) Absolutely.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Marguerita worked for Yaz’s brother and had access to Yaz’s house. The theory: Did she sneak over there once, place the cyanide in the capsules so she’d have Yaz for herself?
(Dish1Up sign; exterior of house; open capsule)
Mr. BRADLEY: The police themselves did very, very little to eliminate her as a suspect.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Despite that assertion, the authorities had investigated Marguerita and dismissed her as a suspect. She emphatically denied having anything to do with Rosie’s death. But by introducing the girlfriend theory, had the defense raised enough reasonable doubt?
(Police vehicle; photo of Montanez; court in session)
Mr. MAREIN: (In court) The defense would respectfully rest.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) After a seven-week trial and over 60 witnesses, the case was concluded. Now it was up to the jurors. They deliberated for three days and announced they had reached a verdict.
(Deena Calabrese; Ohio state seal; empty jury seats)
Ms. McGREGOR: (In court) Breathe. That’s the most important. Nice deep breaths.
Ms. DiPUCCIO: I couldn’t stop shaking. I got exactly the same way I did the day Rosie died.
Unidentified Man #3: (In court) Please rise.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The lawyers, the families on both sides, were summoned to the courtroom for the reading of the verdict by Judge Deena Calabrese.
(Court in session)
Judge DEENA CALABRESE: (In court) We the jury in this case being duly impaneled and sworn do find the defendant Yazeed Essa guilty of aggravated murder.
Ms. DiPUCCIO: (In court) Whoa!
Judge CALABRESE: (In court) In violation of 20...
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Guilty. It was almost over. At sentencing a few days later, Rosie’s family confronted the man they’d once loved as a son and brother.
(Yaz in court)
Mr. DiPUCCIO: (In court) We lost our Rosie for no reason. The only thing I’m hoping that is from now on maybe there’ll be less nights that my wife cries herself to sleep.
DOMINIC: (In court) And I challenge him to find the courage today to admit what he did, to provide the apology to my mother, my father, my sister, my wife, my brother, Rachel deserve. Are you man enough? Are you? It’s your last chance to save your soul right here, right now.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) Yaz kept his silence.
(Yaz in court)
Judge CALABRESE: (In court) I sentence you to life in prison.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) The judge had sentenced the doctor to the maximum. All along, the detectives, the prosecutors, had wondered about the ifs: if Rosie hadn’t called Eva on the way to the movies, if Rosie had lost control of her SUV on the freeway and not a local street...
(Sentencing trial; photo of Rosie; car on freeway; dash cam video of SUV)
Mr. DEVER: Had it been a high-speed impact on the—on the highway, the coroner and the pathologist probably wouldn’t have looked any further than for some blunt force trauma from the automobile accident. In a way it could’ve been a perfect crime.
MURPHY: (Voiceover) But Yaz hadn’t plotted the perfect crime, as the jurors saw it. He killed, he ran, he was caught by tenacious lawmen.
(Photo of Yaz; pills; plane ticket; mug shot of Yaz)