Witnesses in killings can stay for trial

But 3 slain children's kin must return to Mexico after possible testimony

September 24, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

A federal immigration judge declared yesterday that two defense witnesses in the case of the three Mexican children slain this year in Northeast Baltimore are illegal residents but are permitted to stay in the country because they may be asked to testify at trial.

Victor Espinoza Perez and his wife, Guadalupe Juarez Hernandez, were issued subpoenas Wednesday by the defense in the murder case, which is scheduled to begin Dec. 13 in Baltimore Circuit Court. But Perez and Hernandez must show the judge in January their plan to leave the United States within 120 days. Both are Mexican citizens.

They have repeatedly said that they believe the two men accused of killing the children, Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 22, and Adan Espinoza Canela, 17 - Victor Perez's brother and son, respectively - are innocent.

The accused men also were the children's uncle and cousin. Police have not established a motive in the killing.

"Victor and Guadalupe would testify that there was a close, warm relationship between Policarpio, Adan and the children," said immigration lawyer Jay Marks, who represents Victor Perez and Hernandez. "This is a tight-knit family. These men used to baby-sit for the children."

Hernandez said in Spanish after yesterday's hearing that she often hears from the defendants from jail.

"They call sometimes, and they are very depressed," she said. "But they have faith."

Brother and sister Ricardo Solis Quezada Jr. and Lucero Solis Quezada, both 9, were found bludgeoned in their Fallstaff apartment May 27 with their 10-year-old male cousin, Alexis Espejo Quezada. One child was beheaded, and the others were partially decapitated.

Victor Perez and Hernandez were arrested by immigration officials Aug. 16 on charges of being in the United States illegally. They were held for 19 days and then were released on $10,000 bail each.

Marks contended that the only reason Victor Perez and his wife have been targeted by immigration officials is that state prosecutors believe the pair's testimony will weaken their first-degree murder case against Policarpio Perez and Canela.

"My clients are material witnesses, and I am convinced that the government is trying to silence them," Marks said. "They are trying to deport witnesses vital to the defense."

Judge John F. Gossart Jr., who conducted the hearing yesterday in U.S. Immigration Court downtown, rejected the suggestion that the government is trying to prevent Victor Perez and Hernandez from testifying.

"I would assume on its face that it is ludicrous the government would have a hidden agenda as to why they wouldn't want them to testify," Gossart said.

Policarpio Perez and Canela were arrested May 28, the day after the killings, and are each charged with three counts of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, using a deadly weapon and other offenses.

Sources familiar with the investigation told The Sun in July that a bloody glove found in Policarpio Perez's trunk linked the men to the crime. Tests of the glove showed Perez's blood and the blood of one of the children.

After their arrests in August, Victor Perez and his wife were taken into custody with Juan Carlos Lara Canela, a half-brother of murder suspect Adan Canela. Many in the extended Mexican family relocated to Baltimore after entering the country illegally.

In charging documents, Juan Carlos Canela told immigration officers that he was "working for Victor to pay off his smuggling fee." But Victor Perez's lawyer pointed out yesterday that his client has not been charged with alien smuggling.

Hernandez and Victor Perez have four children together, ages 4 to 14. Hernandez said the children don't know Mexico well and do not want to return there.

The mothers of the dead children, Noemi Quezada and her niece Andrea Espejo Quezada, are from the small village of Tenenexpan, on Mexico's eastern coast.

Noemi Quezada and her husband, Ricardo, were at yesterday's hearing to lend support to their family members.

The women operated a mobile taco stand in Baltimore. They returned to the town in the Mexican state of Veracruz to bury their children in June, but U.S. immigration officials allowed them to return to Baltimore because local prosecutors wanted them as witnesses.

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