The murder trial of Michael Zutten, accused of killing his East Naples fiancée in 2015, ended in an emotional late-night guilty verdict.
A six-member jury deliberated for approximately four hours Tuesday night before announcing the guilty verdict at 9 p.m in Collier County, in a courtroom occupied by a few members of the media, one of Zutten's daughters and the daughter of the deceased victim. Both daughters left the courthouse in tears.
The jurors found Zutten, 54, of Cape Coral, guilty of second-degree murder for the death of his live-in fiancée, Heather Lee Grimshaw, whose skeletal remains were discovered in the Picayune State Park in 2015.
His sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 18.
On Aug. 29, 2015 deputies responded to the Picayune State Park in reference to the discovery of human remains. Two hikers had found a human skull after seeing vultures circling the area.
Before Collier County Sheriff homicide investigators knew the identity of the deceased victim, they suspected foul play. In October 2015, CCSO took to social media, on Youtube, to solicit help from the public.
"The circumstances upon which she was found are suspicious," CCSO detective Kevin O'Neill said in a video posted on Oct. 15, 2015.
Request for mistrial: Trial for Cape Coral man accused of murder delayed, request for mistrial denied
A month later, an anonymous tip was submitted to Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers that Grimshaw was missing, and in mid-December, investigators confirmed her identity.
Soon after, the Collier County medical examiner's office ruled the death a homicide, the cause of death unknown.
Three years later, detectives arrested Zutten on second-degree murder charges.
Six years later detective O'Neill, who retired from the sheriff's department in 2019, would be called as the state's final witness against Zutten. He was eager to see justice served in a case that dominated his last few years on the job.
The trial began on Nov. 15, and opening statements were briefly delayed after an 11th-hour motion was filed, that nearly ended the proceedings with a mistrial over an issue concerning the medical examiner's opinion that Grimshaw's death was a homicide.
On the trial's final day, Zutten testified in front of the jury, which allowed state attorneys to cross-examine him.
His attitude while on the stand was upbeat, laughing nervously at times. He said he loved, and still loves, Grimshaw and was looking forward to spending the rest of his life with her. She would have been his third wife.
In the months before and after the remains were discovered, Zutten shared memes on Facebook referencing "hiding the bodies" and taking a walk in the woods while "dragging a body."
But he testified on Tuesday that his Facebook habits had no malicious intent and that he often shared memes with his online friends that he found to be comical.
He said that he and Grimshaw had plans to move to North Carolina and both had been sending out resumes. A week before they were to move out of state, Grimshaw told him she needed to clear her head and go on a hiking trip to the Appalachian Trail. It was a trip she had attempted at least once before but never saw through.
Although he was unhappy with her plans, he said he understood and he celebrated her leaving with a day trip to Fort Myers Beach on Aug. 25, the day before he claims he last saw her
Aug. 26 would have been almost a week after state prosecutors said Grimshaw was murdered.
Judge Ramiro Mañalich also denied two motions for a judgment of acquittal filed by Zutten on Tuesday
Zutten's lawyer, Marisa Boysen, argued that the state attorneys had not presented substantial evidence regarding each element of the second-degree murder charge.
She told the Naples Daily News that the acquittal motions were more of a formality. Due to a change in the law last year, motions to acquit in criminal trials that involve circumstantial evidence have become essential to the rights of the accused to appeal their conviction.
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Michael Zutten trial: Cape Coral man accused of killing his fiancée found guilty