Man accused of Christmastime strangling is found guilty

RACINE — Michael Vite pumped his fist amid tears, quickly lowering his head in the courtroom, as a judge on Tuesday found his son-in-law guilty of all charges in the strangulation death of his daughter.

Joseph M. Guerrero, 38, of Racine, is accused of killing his wife, Bianca Vite, 21, and setting a Mount Pleasant house on fire with her dead body inside at Christmastime in 2012.

Racine County Circuit Judge Tim Boyle on Tuesday found Guerrero guilty of first-degree intentional homicide, arson and mutilating a corpse, instead of a lesser homicide charge requested by Guerrero’s defense attorneys. Adrienne Moore, who heads the state Public Defender’s trial office in Racine, and Assistant State Public Defender Carolyn Delery argued that Guerrero instead should be convicted of reckless homicide and the arson count, but not the mutilation charge.

Before handing down his decision, Boyle directly addressed Vite’s family.

“I would like to express my deepest sympathies,” he said, noting that regardless of his decision, it can’t bring Vite back.

‘Journey to justice’

Boyle acknowledged Vite’s family’s frustration with the lengthy process to arrive at this point in the case. “I call it a journey to justice, but sometimes it takes certain humps and bumps to get there,” he said.

“I would echo Judge Boyle’s sentiments regarding my deepest sympathies for the victim’s family. This was a long and painful process. Our goal has always been to seek justice for the victim and her family,” District Attorney Rich Chiapete stated in an email after the hearing.

Vite’s father, Michael Vite, and her mother, Lisa Fuller, declined to comment after Tuesday’s decision.

Vite, from Pleasant Prairie, and Guerrero married in July 2012 in Lake County, Illinois, police have said.

After Tuesday’s hearing, Guerrero’s sister told The Journal Times she loves her older brother unconditionally and two families have been affected by the killing.

“It was unfortunate circumstances,” Stephanie Guerrero Kosterman said. “He’s very distraught by it. I pray that he doesn’t try to take his own life.”

‘Tried to change his life’

Guerrero’s 2½-hour bench trial occurred on Dec. 15.

Guerrero, formerly of Kenosha, is accused of killing his wife on Dec. 22, 2012, after allegedly drinking and using drugs, according to Mount Pleasant police and court records. The house fire began between the late evening of Dec. 24 and early morning hours of Dec. 25, witnesses testified during his trial. His sister previously lived in that house, at 5535 16th St., but had moved to Texas, according to police reports.

“She was a very beautiful girl. I know my brother loved her very much. She really tried to change his life,” Kosterman said. But, his addiction took over, she explained.

Once in the Kenosha County Jail, Guerrero allegedly told another inmate that he was drinking and took three Xanax that night, according to a Mount Pleasant police report released last month. Guerrero said Vite refused to take pills, but was having a drink with him that night, an inmate told police.

Guerrero reportedly told that inmate Vite was nagging him about turning himself in on warrants out for his arrest and about wanting to have children, the police report states.

The inmate said “Guerrero made the comment that Vite’s insides are all ‘(expletive) up because (Vite) has been (expletive) since she was 10,’” according to the Mount Pleasant police report.

The inmate said as a result, Guerrero told him Vite scratched his face and he began choking her and threw her against a wall, according to the report. The inmate said Guerrero told him when Vite passed out, he checked to see if she was breathing and “knew she was dead.” Guerrero told the inmate he placed his wife in a recliner, “covered her up” and passed out on the couch, the report states.

After Tuesday’s decision, Guerrero’s defense attorney said he should have been convicted of the lesser first-degree reckless homicide charge because there was no evidence he intended to kill his wife.

“We don’t agree with the judge’s decision,” Moore said, adding they “most likely will appeal the sentence.”

Sentencing options

While the first-degree intentional homicide charge carries a mandatory term of life in prison, there are three options available to Boyle when he sentences Guerrero on March 12.

He could sentence Guerrero to what amounts to natural life behind bars without the chance for release. Boyle could set a date for Guerrero to be released onto extended supervision, after first serving 20 years in prison. Or Boyle could allow Guerrero to petition the parole commission requesting he be released on extended supervision after first serving 20 years in prison.