Murder Trial Begins For Death of Nursing Student Michelle Le

Michelle Le was a nursing student at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The murder trial of Giselle Esteban started Monday after prosecutors charged her with killing, Michelle Le, a nursing student because she blamed the victim for wrecking her relationship with her daughter's father. Christie Smith report. (Published Monday, Oct 1, 2012)

      The murder trial of Giselle Esteban started Monday after prosecutors charged her with killing a nursing student because she blamed the victim for wrecking her relationship with her daughter's father.

      The courthouse in Oakland was packed, mostly with family and friends of  Michelle Le, whose body was found on Sept. 17, 2011, four months after the Samuel Merritt University in Oakland nursing student disappeared from the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Hayward.

    Prosecutors opened their statements by showing a picture of Le smiling, and then a glimpse of the surveillance photo taken near the parking garage were she was last seen.

          Esteban, a 28-year-old Union City woman who attended high schoolwith Le in San Diego, was charged with Le's murder on Sept. 8, 2011, -- before Le's body was found -- based on DNA evidence and cellphone records.

     

           Esteban's case came to trial more quickly than most murder cases because the Alameda County District Attorney's Office chose to bypass the step of having a preliminary hearing at which a judge determines if there is enough evidence against a defendant for a case to proceed to trial.
           Instead, prosecutors presented their case to an Alameda County criminal grand jury and last Dec. 14 at the end of a three-day hearing the panel indicted her on a murder charge.
           Prosecutor Butch Ford and defense attorney Andrea Auer declined to comment on the case before they present their opening statements on Monday.
           According to the 470-page transcript of the grand jury's proceedings, the father of Esteban's first child, Scott Marasigan, first met Esteban and then dated Le briefly, although they didn't have a sexual relationship.
    Esteban, ultimately having a daughter with her on Oct. 31, 2005, the panel's report said.
           However, Marasigan later broke up with Esteban and was awarded full custody of their daughter in September 2010, according to the transcript.
           Ford told the grand jury that Marasigan continued to be a non-romantic friend of Le but "Giselle did not want him to have a friendly relationship with Michelle in any form, shape or fashion."
           Ford said, "Giselle would not leave the issue of Michelle alone and wanted to control Scott, wanted to prevent him from having any sort of contact at all" with her.
           Esteban would threaten Marasigan, talk about the consequences of what would happen if he didn't stop seeing Le and told him "that the punishment would be swift" if he continued seeing her, according to Ford.
           The prosecutor says in the days before May 27, 2011, "Giselle was so enraged that she began to essentially hunt down Miss Le."
           Ford said, "We intend to prove that Giselle Esteban had become successful and actually stalked Michelle to the Kaiser facility in Hayward, attacked her in the parking lot, threw her body into Michelle's car and drove her away from Hayward, ultimately out to the Pleasanton-Sunol Valley Road area, and ultimately, through sort of a makeshift grave, buried Michelle's
    body out there."
           Fellow prosecutor Robert Warren told the grand jury that text messages that Esteban sent to Marasigan "show that this hatred, this obsession (about Michelle Le) that was within Miss Esteban was continuous from November of 2010 until May 27, 2011."
           In her text messages Esteban said Le "will pay with her life" and "would not be a problem for much longer," Warren told the panel.
           Warren said it's not entirely clear how Le was killed but circumstantial evidence such as Le's hair and blood indicate that Esteban assaulted her in the parking lot at the Kaiser facility and then placed Le into her own car, in which Le continued to bleed.
           Marasigan told the grand jury that he had a volatile relationship with Esteban.
           He said Esteban "had quite a number of suicide threats" and "was very manipulative and kind of used that as a power play."
           Marasigan also said she was briefly committed in facilities based on her threats to harm herself and at various times had been diagnosed with manic depression with psychotic features as well as with a form of bipolar disorder.
           He told the grand jury that Esteban "was exhibiting unstable behavior" in the days before Le disappeared and he filed for a temporary restraining order against her only three days before Le went missing.
           Esteban gave birth to a second child the week before Thanksgiving last year but the father's name has not been disclosed and Marasigan has said he's not the father.
           Le's cousin, Krystine Dinh, who helped coordinate the search for Lee, said on Friday that she and other family members, including Le's brother Michael Le, will be attending Esteban's trial "to honor Michelle and make sure there is justice for her death."
           Esteban's trial is expected to take about a month.

    NBC Bay Area's Christie Smith contributed to this report.