CLEVELAND - A woman testified Friday that her affair with a doctor charged in his wife's cyanide death was casual, not an infatuation that the defense has suggested might be a motive for her to commit murder.
"It wasn't a relationship," Marguerita Montanez testified under cross-examination as the defense for Dr. Yazeed Essa tried to buttress its suggestion that she wanted to marry Essa and might be his wife's killer.
Essa, 41, dressed in a dark suit and wearing a wedding band, watched closely and took notes during her testimony at his murder trial. He is accused of poisoning his wife in 2005 and has pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder in the death of Rosemarie Essa, 38.
Montanez, with members of the Essa and victim's families watching from opposite sides of the courtroom, deflected repeated questions from defense attorney Steve Bradley about the extent and duration of her trysts with Essa.
"It was an occasional sexual encounter, is that what you are telling us?" Bradley asked.
"Yes," she responded.
Asked how a relationship with Essa that dated to 1995-96 got restarted after her 1999 marriage ran into problems, she responded, "I believe he took advantage of my vulnerability."
Bradley tried to show that Montanez had access to the Essa home and asked at one point whether she had a garage door opener so she could hide her car during trysts at the doctor's house.
"I never even heard that one," Montanez said, her eyes widening. "That's a new one."
Under questioning by prosecutor Steve Dever, Montanez said she never had sex with Essa at his home, and he wasn't the father of any of her three children.
"No. God, no," she responded.
Dever asked if she had anything do with the victim's death.
"Absolutely not," she responded.
Rosemarie Essa died Feb. 24, 2005, after taking a cyanide-lace calcium tablet and crashing her SUV into an oncoming car near the couple's home in Gates Mills. The prosecution has said Essa poisoned her to free himself from a loveless marriage without a costly divorce that might damage his reputation.
Essa disappeared when police began investigating his wife's death. A U.S. citizen whose family is from a Palestinian territory, Essa was arrested in 2006 in Cyprus.