Lawyers for men accused of killing 3 children criticize prosecution

Handling of evidence at issue

`complied' with law, state says

Defense in murder case criticizes city prosecutors

November 06, 2004|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Defense attorneys for two young men charged in the gruesome killings of three children criticized prosecutors after a hearing yesterday, saying that they haven't been able to view much of the state's evidence and that what they have seen has been sloppy.

With a trial date set for next month, lawyers for Policarpio Espinoza and Adan Canela also pointed to what they said are other problems: defense witnesses who have been ordered to be deported to Mexico and inaccurate oral translations of court proceedings for the Spanish-speaking defendants.

Espinoza's attorney, Timothy M. Dixon, described prosecutor Sharon Holback's case as "taking a stack of $1 bills, wrapping a $100 around it and saying she has a lot of money."

In city Circuit Court yesterday, Holback notified Espinoza and Canela that prosecutors intend to seek three sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole. At age 17, Canela could not have faced the death penalty, but Espinoza, 22, could have.

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy would not comment on the decision to seek life sentences. One requirement of Maryland's death penalty statute is that a defendant must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt to be the person who committed the killing.

Ricardo Solis Quezada Jr. and Lucero Solis Quezada, both 9, and their male cousin, Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10, were killed May 27 in their family's Fallstaff apartment. One child was decapitated, and the others were partially decapitated.

Their uncle, Espinoza, and cousin, Canela, are scheduled to stand trial Dec. 13.

But defense attorneys said that is not a realistic timeframe because they claim prosecutors have not been forthcoming with the evidence. Attorneys James Rhodes and Adam Sean Cohen represent Canela.

All three defense attorneys said the evidence they have seen includes incomplete transcripts, blank pages, medical records with handwritten - but unsigned - notes, and pages from different documents that are scrambled together.

Joseph Sviatko, a spokesman for the state's attorney's office, declined to comment on the defense's allegations, but did say, "We've complied with the law."

Holback wrote to defense attorneys in September to remind them that they had agreed with prosecutors that "substantive documents" should not be placed in the public court file. Rather, she wrote, she is keeping evidence in a "discovery notebook" that they can request to view at any time.

Rhodes and Dixon said yesterday that they now want all documents pertaining to the case to be kept in the public court file.

Another issue for the defense attorneys is the immigration status of three witnesses.

Victor Espinoza - who is Canela's father and the brother of Policarpio Espinoza - and his wife, Guadalupe Juarez, were arrested during a raid of their home Aug. 16 and charged with being in the United States illegally. Both spent 19 days in jail on the Eastern Shore before posting $10,000 bonds.

Juan Carlos Lara Canela, a half-brother of Adan Canela, was also arrested Aug. 16 and is in jail on the Eastern Shore.

An immigration judge has ordered the deportation of all three, although a stay is in place for Victor Espinoza and his wife until January, when there will be another immigration hearing.

But their attorney, Jay S. Marks of Silver Spring, said there is a possibility that they will be ordered out of the country before the trial begins.

Marks said prosecutors, who successfully fought to keep their witnesses in the country until the trial, would have a stronger case if Victor Espinoza and his wife and Juan Canela are not available to testify. Marks said his clients will testify that the defendants were "favorite uncles" of the dead children.

Marks said he believes that Baltimore police and prosecutors "connived and colluded" with immigration officials to attempt to deport the defense witnesses to improve their chances of convicting "innocent men."

"This is a misuse of the immigration laws," Marks said.

Sviatko, speaking for prosecutors, said he could not comment on "trial strategy" or "an ongoing investigation."

Matt Jablow, a spokesman for city police, responded to Marks' accusation by saying: "As far as I know, that is utterly ridiculous."

A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said immigration officials follow the law. "We wouldn't be removing anyone from the country for anyone else in particular," said Ernestine Fobbs, the spokeswoman.

Other issues emerged during yesterday's hearing.

Dixon corrected the court record to show that his client's name is Policarpio Espinoza, not Policarpio Espinoza Perez, as prosecutors had rendered it during a previous hearing.

After a court-appointed Spanish translator substituted words, mispronounced names and changed numbers while orally translating what Holback said during the 10-minute hearing, defense attorneys asked Circuit Judge John M. Glynn for another translator. The judge agreed, defense attorneys said.

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