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Yazeed Essa: The Fugitive Doctor

fugitive @ hotmail.com 41:31

Produced by Joshua Yager and Jonathan Leach

"I've been working international fugitives with the FBI about 26 years… we've arrested a lot of bad guys," says FBI Special Agent Phil Torsney. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime case…and it was certainly one of the tougher ones I ever worked on."

Special Agent Torsney remembers the moment in January 2009, when a three-year international manhunt for Dr. Yazeed Essa came to an end.

"It was nice when we could actually say, 'We have this guy in custody.' Now we're sitting next to him on a plane… and I'm thinking, at that point, 'You're going to court. It's been a long road, but you're going to court.'"

Dr. Yazeed Essa was charged with the mysterious murder of his wife, Rosemarie, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Her family has been waiting ever since to hear the truth about what happened to her and of her husband's odyssey in five countries, forged documents, foreign prisons, safe houses and secret affairs.

It's a story that Yazeed Essa's friends say is too bizarre to believe.

"If you were to watch this in a movie you wouldn't even believe that this is possible," Dr. Bob Khadar tells "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Troy Roberts.

It's also a story that Essa's lawyers, Stephen Bradley and Mark Marein, believe is too bizarre to be true.

Two months before Yazeed Essa goes to court, they conduct a mock trial - a high-stakes mission in a case that Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Leila Atassi says has taken on a high profile, too.

"You'd be hard pressed to find someone in the greater Cleveland area who hasn't heard of this case," Atassi explains. "Just the mere mention of the last name Essa will dredge up, you know, at least details, shadowy details of what happened."

What happened to Rosie tore a hole in her tight-knit family. Her parents, Rocco and Gee Gee DiPuccio, still host their kids and grandkids for supper most Sunday nights. Rosie's brother, Dominic, an attorney, says she always loved a good dinnertime debate.

"Rosie called a spade a spade. She never let my head get too big…" And, he says, his little sister never missed a chance to look out for others.

"Rosie always rooted for the underdog," Dominic continues. "She used to say that she wanted a handicapped child… I mean, who do you hear say that? Anybody who was disadvantaged in any way, she was attracted to that person."

That calling led Rosie to become a nurse at Cleveland's now-defunct Mount Sinai Hospital. She was on ER rotation in 1995, when she met a dashing young doctor named Yazeed Essa. Everyone knew him as "Yaz."

Dr. Bob Khadar became Yaz's best friend.

"So I said, 'Well, who is this guy Yaz everybody is talking about?" Dr. Khadar recalls. "He was very funny. He had a kind of 'I don't care' attitude."

When asked if Essa was smart and a skilled physician, Khadar replies "Yes."

"Yaz always wanted to be a doctor and he wanted to be a successful businessman," Yaz's brother, Firas Essa, tells Roberts.

Firas says growing up in a Palestinian-American family, they learned about life on the mean streets of Detroit before moving to Cleveland in 1988 for Yaz to go to medical school.

As if Yaz wasn't busy enough with his studies, he and Firas started a beeper business. They would eventually own a satellite TV company worth millions.

"Yazeed Essa was what every woman dreams of - of the perfect man," says Alexandra Herrera. "He was the kind that made everyone laugh, he made everyone feel comfortable. I mean, he even charmed my dog groomer,"

Herrera says she wasn't looking for love when she met Yazeed at work in the hospital in 1995. She says she found his lust for life impossible to resist, and within months, they were living together.

About a year later, Herrera began to suspect that he was seeing someone else. Sure enough, one day while she wasn't home, Yaz suddenly packed up and left.

"There was a letter that said that 'he wasn't my bitch anymore,'" Herrera tells Roberts. "I remember asking, 'What is it about this new person in your life that is so special?' That person was Rosemarie."

Watch more of Alexandra's interview

Herrera says Yaz couldn't stand her suspicions and told her, in Rosie, he'd found someone who didn't ask questions.

About a year later, on Sept. 11, 1999, Rosie and Yazeed got married. The next year, they had a son, Armand. Their daughter, Lena, was born two years after that.

"She loved being a mom…it's all she ever wanted," says Dominic.

"She was so happy being a mother," sister-in-law Julie DiPuccio adds. Julie says the couple seemed to have it all: a comfortable home, a loving marriage, two beautiful children - and were even planning a third.

But tragedy struck on Feb. 24, 2005.

At about 2 p.m., Rosie left home to meet her sister, Leila, for a movie. She was only driving about 10 mph when, at an intersection, she had a fender bender with another car… and her near perfect life came to a bizarre halt.

"When first responders arrived at the scene of Rosie's car accident they found her on the brink of unconsciousness, slumped in the driver's side seat, clutching her open cell phone," Atassi says. "She was trying to call her husband…"

"Her eyes were still open… her chest was gurgling… and she was just slumped there clutching her cell phone," says Leila.

"I drove 100 mph to the hospital thinking it was bad," Dominic recalls. "And I was praying the whole way that she would - that it wouldn't be bad."

But it was bad. Rosie was pronounced dead at 3:02 p.m. - an almost impossible reality for her family because she was just 38, otherwise healthy, and, says brother Rocky, she didn't have a scratch on her.

"I mean, my father was right at Rosie's head. He was just cradling her and my mom was on one side, I was on the other side," he says. "You know, it was chaotic. It was so emotional."

As more relatives gathered, Yaz stood quietly apart. His behavior struck everyone as strange.

"[He was] just kinda... rocking against the wall - all upset. We just kinda made eye contact and he just shook his head," Dominic explains.

Yaz said he had no idea how Rosie could have died; nobody else did either. But one thing was clear. "It was obvious to everybody in the room," Rocky says. "I mean, clearly, she didn't die in a car accident."

Now, Yazeed Essa is about to go on trial for murder.

"This is going to be contentious…," his lawyer, Mark Marein says. "…a ball busting, down-in-the-trenches trial."On Jan. 25, 2010, nearly five years after Rosemarie Essa's mysterious death, testimony in her husband's murder trial is about to begin.

Dr. Yazeed Essa's lawyers honed their arguments in a mock trial and now they're ready for the real one.

"His whole life's on the line here, so naturally there's a lot of anxiety," Defense Attorney Steven Bradley tells Troy Roberts.

Right away, Bradley and Prosecutor Steve Dever begin a battle to define Yazeed Essa for the jury.

"Let me begin by saying that… the death of Rosemarie Essa was senseless and certainly tragic," Bradley tells the court. "There is no motive whatsoever for him to have committed this crime."

"What we're going to do is present to you a picture of a narcissistic sociopath, who calculated an evil plan to kill his wife," Dever tells the court.

As the state presents its case, Rosie's family is forced to relive that horrible day in the hospital.

Julie DiPuccio takes the stand.

"This was an unbelievable shock…" Julie tells the court, breaking into tears. "I saw my husband, Dominic, waiting outside the emergency room and he told me that she didn't make it."

Julie remembers that Yaz remained distant as the DiPuccios gathered later that evening. The gathering took a chilling turn a few hours later, when Dominic got a phone call from Rosie's best friend, Eva McGregor.

"And I told her Rosie died," Dominic tells Roberts. "And the first words out of her mouth were, 'Oh my God, that son of a bitch. He killed her.'"

Eva told him Rosie had called her that same afternoon from the car on the way to the movies. Now, five years later, she tells the jury the same story.

"She said she wasn't feeling well. She had told me she had taken this calcium pill… that Yaz had given her," she testifies.

Yazeed had insisted Rosie take calcium supplements that morning. Eva immediately suspected he tampered with those capsules and testifies she confronted him at Rosie's funeral.

"And I said, 'Couldn't there been something wrong with the calcium pill?' I didn't know what was in the pill but I wanted to make sure everybody knew that he gave it to her," she testifies, crying.

"I was really struggling with believing that he had anything to do with it," Dominic tells Roberts. "Every time I saw him, [I'd ask] 'Are you all right? What do you need?' [He'd reply] 'I'm fine…everything's fine.'"

In retrospect, Dominic says Yaz seemed "fine" much too soon. He refused the family's offers of help with the kids and instead hired a pair of nannies, Marguerita Montenaz and Michele Madeline.

Detective Gary McKee began investigating this strange case for the Highland Heights Police Department soon after Rosie died and discovered Yazeed's nannies were taking care of more than the children.

"He was sexually active with other partners throughout his marriage," says Det. McKee.

"We did not know that they were his girlfriends," Julie says. "It was disgusting... I mean, because those women were in the house within days of her dying."

Back in court, one of those women, nanny Marguerita Montenez, tells the jury she met Yazeed at one of his beeper stores and started sleeping with him in 2001, while both of them were married.

"Yazeed asked me out for drinks at the Winking Lizard and we went to a Motel 6 after," she testifies.

Yazeed's other nanny, Michelle Madeline, is still struggling to put the relationship behind her and asks the judge to prohibit the media from showing her face on the witness stand.

"He kissed me and it progressed from there…" she tells the court.

"Were you falling in love with him?" the prosecutor asks.

"Eventually, yes," she replies.

According to Det McKee, "They tell each other they love each other. There are trips taken together… there are flowers sent…"

Michelle Madeline testifies she also became involved with Yazeed before Rosie died. They worked together at the hospital, but would meet regularly on Wednesday nights in an apartment he kept upstairs from his satellite TV office.

Prosecutor Steve Dever: Did the defendant describe to you then...what was wrong with his relationship with Rosie?

Michelle Madeline: He wasn't in love with her…He would say she was a good person but she was cold. He would call her Amana.

Steve Dever: Amana. And what is that name?

Michelle Madeline: The refrigerator brand.

But Firas Essa says Yazeed only cared for his wife and children and he was not aware of problems in the marriage.

Defense Attorney Stephen Bradley: He's happy in his marriage… but at the same time he continues to have all these sexual affairs?

Firas Essa: Yeah.

Stephen Bradley: Do you know whether Rosemarie was aware of the fact that your brother was cheating on her?

Firas Essa: No. She wasn't. She wasn't aware.

Until now, Firas has done everything he could to protect his brother - at any cost. But in court and under oath he's about to be caught in a lie.

Prosecutor Steve Dever: Did you ever have a conversation with your brother about paying $35,000 to shut somebody up?

Firas Essa: No.

Prosecutors introduce evidence recorded on prison phone lines that the Essa brothers did discuss exactly that:

Yaz: Whatever happened to that bitch you guys gave an ultimatum: 25g's to shut up?

Firas: I don't know, but 35Gs actually is what she accepted.

"He clearly perjured himself," Dominic tells Roberts. "He was looking at very serious jail time."

After the judge advises Firas Essa of his right against self-incrimination, he is dismissed for the time being so he can consult with an attorney.

Through it all, Yazeed looks on, seemingly unmoved. It's the same way Det. Gary McKee remembers him when he questioned Yaz three weeks after Rosie died… and first developed his own suspicions about those calcium capsules he'd given her.

"I'm thinking there's something more here than meets the eye," McKee recalls.

In his interview with Yazeed, McKee asks, "Are the calcium pills still at home?" Yazeed replies "Uh huh." When the detective asks, "Would you mind if I followed you back to your home and collected those?" Yaz says, "No. Not at all."

Listen to excerpts of the police interview

Yazeed was apparently unconcerned about handing over the remaining pills to police. But Julie DiPuccio believes he was actually in a panic. "When the police interviewed him, I think it really flipped him out."

The proof, she says, came just days later, when Yazeed Essa vanished.

"I just knew right then… he did it," she says. "He did something to hurt Rosie. And he's gone."

When the lab results came back, police discover Yazeed Essa had good reason to run. The evidence was in those calcium capsules.In the second week of Yazeed Essa's murder trial, the state focuses on his bizarre disappearance and on a startling piece of evidence that Dominic and Julie DiPuccio discovered in his house almost immediately afterwards.

"I noticed that there was an envelope on the table from the passport department…and it had been ripped open," Julie testifies. Dominic tells the court, "And I just looked at my wife and I said, 'He's gone!"

"We found out that he fled…and we tried and tried to find him," Julie tells Troy Roberts. Dominic adds, "Like a needle in a haystack it felt like sometimes… It was killing us, not knowing."

After Yazeed disappeared, the DiPuccio's took on an even bigger burden - making a home for Yaz and Rosie's children, Armand and Lena. The couple already had four children of their own.

"It was very difficult in the beginning, bringing in two more children who had just lost both their parents," Julie admits. "And that was very difficult to do when you're falling apart and you don't even know if you can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich… and all I'm thinking is… my head is spinning and I need it to be quiet so I can think and we can figure out where he went and what happened to him."

In April 2005, just two months after Rosie's death, FBI Agent Phil Torsney, a veteran fugitive hunter, was assigned to figure out where the successful doctor and businessman was.

Agent Torsney picked up Yazeed Essa's trail at the travel agency where he purchased his ticket and soon uncovered evidence that Yaz had used a kind of "underground railroad" for his escape.

"The next stop is in Detroit at the casino. Meet up with some buddies and do some gambling," Torsney explains. "Essa crossed the border from the United States into Canada…where he proceeded to Toronto where he boarded his flight overseas… Heathrow over to Cyprus. That's where we sorta came to a standstill at some point. We knew from Cyprus he was probably in the Middle East."

Using a network of family and business contacts, Yazeed made his way to Beirut, Lebanon, where at first he went underground, moving from safe house to safe house all over the city.

Lebanon was no random destination. The country doesn't have an extradition treaty with the U.S., so while authorities used credit cards and emails to track Yazeed to Beirut, they wouldn't be able to lay a hand on him if they found him.

"He knew we were looking for him," Torsney tells Roberts. "I believe he felt he was safe over there."

"Did the authorities clue you into his movements? How he was conducting himself? The lifestyle he led?" Roberts asks the DiPuccios.

"No. Not at all," Dominic says. "We knew nothing! As far as we knew, nobody knew where he was!"

Yazeed's protector in Lebanon was Jamal Khalife, a self-described "businessman" who had once lived in Michigan and where his family knew the Essas.

"I got a phone call - he needs some help in Lebanon. Please help him. Take care of him," Khalife explains.

Roberts asks him, "If I was trying to stay one step ahead of the law and I was in Beirut, you could help me?"

"Yes," Khalife replies.

"You could provide me with a new passport?"

"Yes."

"You could get me a new identity?"

"Yes."

"You could help me stay out of jail?

"Hell yes," Khalife says. "Don't worry about nothing. We'll take care of you."

So Khalife took care of Yazeed. He gave him a gun, a slew of fake IDs and safe houses to hide in. But Yaz didn't remain underground for long. He was photographed at a wedding with Khalife while he was in hiding.

Khalife says Yazeed was living large, but soon Yaz was living a bit too large for his own good. He spent his days drinking in pubs and cafes on Beirut's waterfront and his nights partying in discos all over town. To support his lavish lifestyle, investigators say he had his brother, Firas, wire him thousands of dollars at a time.

"I know he was trying to create a new life for himself," Firas says. "He had to figure out a way to survive there."

"So it sounded like he was on vacation," Roberts notes to Khalife.

"He was on vacation," he replies. Khalife also confirms that Yaz was dating.

Nayla Souki met Yazeed Essa in an online chat room about three months after he arrived in Beirut.

The 38-year-old teacher says she never thought his email address - fugitive @ hotmail.com - was suspicious.

"He wanted to see me and I said why not! And we started seeing each other more often," she tells Roberts during their interview in Beirut.

By the spring of 2006, Yazeed's relationship with Nayla was getting serious. He'd cut ties with Jamal Khalife and moved to her neighborhood. She says they saw each other every day. "We went to movies…we went for dinner sometimes… to the mountains to the beach."

They had a lot of time to talk and Yazeed Essa had a lot to say.

"He said they were accusing him of killing his wife to be with another woman… And that he didn't do it," she explains.

"Did you ever ask him the question directly, Nayla? 'Did you kill your wife?'" Roberts asks.

"I think I did it once and he said, 'Don't you believe me? I would never do it.' The way the story was, like leaving the pills or giving them to the police, would he do it? Would he convict himself? He's a smart man, he's very clever," she says. "If he wanted to so something bad to his wife, he wouldn't do it this way!"

Hear more of Nayla's interview

But Jamal Khalife says Yazeed wasn't acting smart at all. When asked how he was behaving, Khalife replies, "Stupid. …drinking, bragging, being the big shot with money."

"I told him to change his ways," Khalife says.

But in October 2006, Yaz boarded a plane to Cyprus - a country that does have an extradition treaty with the U.S. His recklessness finally caught up with him.

Interpol and the FBI had tipped off Cyprus police that Yazeed Essa might be on board traveling under an alias. Sgt. Marios Ioannou of the Larnaca Police was waiting at the airport when the plane landed.

"We knew that he was supposed to use a passport with his photo, but with a different name. Maurice Khalife," Ioannou tells Roberts.

Maurice Khalife was Jamal's cousin and Yazeed had been using his identity for months. As passengers filed off the plane, Ioannou compared them to a grainy photo of a bald man he'd been given.

Ioannou was beginning to think his information was bad. When the last passengers came into view, one looked vaguely familiar.

"I actually did not recognize him because he had long hair," Ioannou says. "I ask him, 'Sir, what is your name?' He told me, 'My name is Maurice Khalife.'"

When Ioannou hauled him in for questioning and fingerprinting, the prints were an instant match to Yazeed Essa.

Yazeed was arrested for using a doctored passport and held in a Cyrpus prison for U.S. authorities.

"He had changed his appearance…he had done a lot of things, but fingerprints don't lie," says FBI Special Agent Tornsey.

After 19 months, Torsney finally had his man.

For two years, Yazeed Essa would fight extradition until Torsney was finally able to put him on the plane to Cleveland in January 2009. Yet it didn't take nearly that long for his former protector, Jamal Khalife, to turn on him, says prosecutor Matt Meyer.

"I give them evidence, papers," says Khalife.

"Jamal remembered transactions, amounts, dates, places," Meyer says. "Jamal knew things that nobody knew." Including something so explosive that prosecutors will bring Khalife all the way from the Middle East to the Midwest to testify at Yazeed Essa's murder trial.

"You believe that Yazeed Essa killed his Rosemarie?" Roberts asks Khalife.

"I know it for a fact!" he replies. As Yazeed Essa's murder trial enters its second week, the state calls its star witness. Yaz's one-time protector, Jamal Khalife, traveled all the way from Beirut to lay out the sordid details of Yazeed's "underground railroad" escape and his 19 months on the run.

According to Assistant D.A. Matt Meyer, "Jamal knew things that nobody knew!"

And there's one detail that Meyer hopes will turn this case into a slam dunk for the state.

"I KNOW he killed his wife," Khalife tells Troy Roberts. When asked, "How do you know?" Khalife replies, "He told me!"

Prosecutor Steve Dever: And what did he tell you about the death of his wife and cyanide?

Jamal Khalife: He told me the whole story. That his wife was leaving the home, going I think to a movie. He grounded cyanide, refilled the pills… and he give her two pills… She had a car accident and she died.

Steve Dever: So are you telling us that he was bragging about killing his wife?

Jamal Khalife: He was bragging, completely!

Defense attorneys Mark Marein and Steven Bradley know they'll never win this trial without discrediting Jamal Khalife. And they've got a lot to work with. It turns out that Khalife became a fugitive long before Yazeed Essa ever was.

In 1994, Khalife was under investigation for money laundering and a weapons charge in Michigan. Potentially facing a long prison sentence, he fled the U.S. for his native Lebanon. He always wanted a way back to America, says the defense, and when Yazeed Essa walked into his life in 2005, Khalife saw his chance.

"He recognized that Yazeed Essa was his get out of jail free card," says Bradley.

Defense attorneys are convinced Jamal Khalife has cut a deal with the state for his testimony, but getting him to admit it is a different matter.

What does Jamal Khalife get in return for sharing his story? "He doesn't get prosecuted for helping Yazeed," says Meyer.

Khalife actually gets a lot more than that. Two days after testifying against Yazeed Essa, a judge ruling on the Michigan charges lets him off with probation.

"He cut a deal and the proof is in the pudding because he's back in the country and he's not in a jail facility," Marein tells Roberts.

The defense hopes exposing Khalife's plea deal will discredit him with the jury. But the Essa defense is about to be handed a stunning setback that nobody is expecting.

Two weeks after he was caught lying on the stand, Yazeed Essa's brother, Firas, suddenly reappears in court.

"So he really had a stark choice to make. Deal with his own issues or continue holding the bag for his brother," says Meyer.

"It must have been nerve-wracking for you to testify," Roberts says to Firas.

"It was," he replies. "I can't describe how much love I have for my brother. It was gut-wrenching."

If he lies again, Firas faces up to 16 years in prison on perjury and obstruction of justice. What he says at this moment could very well seal his brother's fate - or seal his own.

Prosecutor Steve Dever: Did the defendant tell you who put the cyanide into the calcium pills?

Firas Essa: He told me he did!

Steve Dever: When you found out that information what did you say to your brother?

Firas Essa: I told him he was a f---ing asshole…

Steve Dever: Why did you say that?

Firas Essa: Because he took Rosie's life and I loved her… He just ruined his whole family.

After everything Dominic DiPuccio has been through in the last five years, he can't believe his ears. "[Firas] looked like a man on an island…and in a weird way I just felt sorry for him," he says.

In closing arguments the defense reminds the jury to stick with the basics. There's no motive in this case and investigators found no DNA and no usable fingerprints. There's still no proof, they say, that Yazeed Essa ever actually possessed cyanide, nor is there an explanation for why he gave the murder weapon to police.

"Presumably an intelligent individual who had spiked calcium capsules would have taken those capsules and flushed them down the toilet or done something with them," Marein tells Roberts. "He did nothing."

In the state's closings, Prosecutor Ana Feralia says Yazeed Essa did plenty.

"She was calling to him for help… and ya didn't help her, did ya?" she says addressing Yazeed. "A health care professional takes an oath to preserve life, not destroy it!"

With all eyes on him, Yazeed Essa decides not to testify, leaving the lawyers to argue about whether he's a victim of circumstance or a predator who planned the perfect murder at the expense of those who needed him the most.

"He thinks he can fool these 12 people...I'm sure of it," Dominic DiPuccio says outside of the courtroom.

Says Firas, "His life is one the line." After five weeks of testimony, the jury begins to deliberate Yazeed Essa's fate. On the fourth day of deliberations, they finally reach a verdict.

For Rosie's family, the tension is unbearable as Judge Deena Calabrese delivers the verdict: guilty of aggravated murder.

Read more about the verdict

For the DiPuccios and their loved ones, five years of pain and exhaustion, give way to tears.
"Rosie's gonna rest in peace now," says sister-in-law Julie DiPuccio.

Prosecutors savor an emotional victory…

"At the end of the day truth prevailed," says Prosecutor Ana Feralia.

"I visited that home shortly after Yazeed fled. And I remember seeing high chairs… it was wrong," says Prosecutor Matt Meyer, in tears.

The defense team is disappointed.

Four days later, after Yazeed Essa trades in his expensive suits for prison clothes, Rosie's family addresses the court.

"Maybe there will be less nights that my wife cries herself to sleep," Rosie's dad, Rocco, says.

"I stand before you with strong conviction that Yazeed Essa receives the maximum sentence," Julie tells the court. "He had no regrets about killing Rosie or abandoning his children."

After years of struggling to face his worst fears about Yazeed Essa, Dominic DiPuccio finally addresses his sister's killer directly.

"I challenge him to find the courage today to admit what he did..." Dominic tells the court before turning to Yaz. "Are you man enough? Are you? It's your last chance to save your soul. Right here, right now. Are you a man or not?"

Dominic later tells Roberts, "It was me versus Yaz. He was the leader of his family. I'm the leader of mine."

Protecting his chances for a successful appeal, Yazeed Essa doesn't say a word and barely flinches as the Judge Calabrese reads the sentence:

"I cannot imagine the evil that you have done to these people…," she says. "At this time, I sentence you to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 20 years."

"If he would have said the right things and explained to us that he did it…why he did it…that he was sorry he did it…that would have gone a long way," Dominic says after the sentencing.

When asked is he will ever understand, Firas Essa replies, "No. There's no reason to try and understand. It's all about coping."

Firas will have to cope with the knowledge that he, more than anyone, helped send his brother to prison.

Of their relationship today, Firas says, "It's the same as it's always been…We're just as close as we were the day I was born…and we'll be that way till the day we die."

"Many people would find that surprising," says Roberts.

"Many people aren't my brother," Firas replies.

"And he wasn't angered?"

"Nothing's gonna change the relationship. Period."

When asked if this could have been the perfect crime, Dominic tells Roberts, "Perfect in the sense that he could have gotten away with it? I think so, yeah. If she flips her car doing 60 miles an hour on the freeway… nobody has any reason to believe that it wasn't anything other than a car accident."

Dominic DiPuccio has become legal guardian of Yazeed Essa's children. He is looking into changing their last names to his own - cutting Yazeed's ties to the son and daughter he left behind… in honor of the woman he took away.

"I talk to her every day. I ask her for advice. I ask her, 'What would you do? Can you help me… can you help me figure this out because this is a hard one,'" Julie DiPuccio says. "This is so hard, but I will do whatever it takes for Rosie."

The Essa family has asked to visit the children. For now, Rosie's family won't allow it.

After the trial, the children were told their father killed their mother. They haven't asked about him since.

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