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OAKLAND, Calif. — A Northern California jury has found Giselle Esteban guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of nursing student Michelle Le, who was missing for four months last year before her body was found dumped in a remote canyon east of San Francisco Bay.
The jury announced its decision Monday shortly after 2:15 p.m. at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland.
After the verdict was read, Le's family hugged each other in the hallway. Her brother, Michael Le, said he felt like a "burden had been lifted." His family had sat in the front row holding hands during the announcement.
A handout photo shows 26-year-old nursing student Michelle Le before she disappeared.
As the jury read its findings, Esteban looked as if she knew the jury was going to come back with that verdict.
Le's body was found on Sept. 17, 2011, four months after the Oakland-based Samuel Merritt University nursing student disappeared from the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Hayward, where Le was doing a clinical rotation.
Prosecutors said Esteban stalked Le, 26, and attacked her in the Kaiser parking garage after becoming increasingly enraged at a friendship between Le and Scott Marasigan, who has a young daughter with Esteban.
Esteban, 29, attended high school with Le in San Diego. Based on DNA and cellphone records, Esteban was charged a few days before Le's body was found.
“I am very gratified with the jury's decision," Deputy District Attorney Butch Ford said. "I want to acknowledge the Hayward Police Department for their dedication and persistence in investigating and solving this horrible murder. The jury's considered evaluation of the evidence today led to a just verdict."
After the verdict, District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley stated, “I am pleased the perpetrator of this heinous, calculated crime has been brought to justice. I hope today’s verdict will help the family and friends of Ms. Le to continue the long process towards healing following this tragic and senseless crime.”
Esteban's attorney, Andrea Auer, has never disputed that her client killed Le, but argued in court that the evidence against Esteban was done in the "heat of passion" and her client should not be convicted of first-degree murder.
Esteban, who had pleaded not guilty, is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 10.
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