A 68-year-old jeweler whose clients have included Donald Trump and Yoko Ono was convicted Wednesday of murdering his wife by incinerating her in an oil drum.
Werner Lippe of Cortlandt had confessed to the killing three times, but then recanted and testified to his innocence. His defense stressed that no trace of the body was found, and an earlier jury was unable to reach a verdict.
Jurors at Lippe's retrial in Westchester County Court spent eight hours deliberating over two days, and asked to hear each of Lippe's recorded confessions.
On one recording _ by a friend wearing a wire for the police _ Lippe said of his wife, "She doesn't exist anymore. They can't find her."
When the verdict was announced at midday, Lippe stood stone-faced. But friends and relatives of the victim, Faith Lippe, 49, smiled and embraced.
"We now have a small piece of closure that will allow us to stop dwelling on Faith's death so we can start celebrating her life," said Shari Caradonna, a cousin of the victim. She had said in February, after the mistrial, "We will be back, and we will make sure Werner Lippe stays behind bars."
Caradonna said she thought the second jury "was more open-minded" rather than focused on the lack of a body.
The Lippes' children, a 16-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son who testified against their father, were told about the verdict, Caradonna said. The Lippes were in the midst of a divorce when Faith Lippe disappeared.
Christina Araujo, a friend of Faith Lippe who attended the trial, said, "While it's great that he's guilty, Faith isn't here."
District Attorney Janet DiFiore said Lippe's "horrifying acts of violence against his wife and the mother of his two children are unspeakable and he will now be held accountable."
Lippe's attorney, Andrew Rubin, said he expects to file an appeal.
Judge Barbara Zambelli set sentencing for March 29. Lippe could be sent to prison for 25 years to life. He has been jailed for two years.
Lippe said in his confessions that he knocked out his wife with a board on Oct. 3, 2008, then burned her up in a backyard "burn barrel."
Police saw the barrel early in the investigation, but it disappeared before Lippe was arrested. No trace of his wife _ bone fragments, blood or DNA _ was found.
Lippe testified that he had confessed because he feared investigators were manufacturing evidence against him. He also said he had become fearful that James Learnihan, the friend who wore the wire, would hurt him if he didn't say what Learnihan wanted to hear.
"I wanted him off my back," Lippe said.
He said he had learned when his mother was cremated that it was impossible to destroy bones and teeth by burning, and he thought he would be exonerated when authorities realized his body-burning story couldn't be true.
But prosecutors said Lippe could have disposed of his wife's bones and teeth with the acids he kept in his workshop at his home in Cortlandt, a town of about 40,000 residents just north of New York City.
By killing his wife, the prosecutor said, Lippe stood to gain $1.5 million he would lose in the divorce.
"He had the motive to kill her, he had the means, he had the opportunity and he had the know-how," prosecutor James O'Rourke said.