After delay, trial in killing of 3 children to start today

Case against two older relatives originally scheduled for last month

Metro

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July 06, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

A month after a last-minute delay, the murder trial of two Mexican immigrants accused of slashing the throats of their three young relatives is expected to begin this morning in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Policarpio Espinoza, 23, and his nephew, Adan Canela, 18, each are charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the May 2004 deaths of a 9-year-old brother and sister and their 10-year-old male cousin in the family's Fallstaff apartment.

Espinoza and Canela each face life in prison if convicted after what is expected to be the longest and highest-profile Baltimore court case of the year.

Prosecutors and one of the defense attorneys said yesterday that they are ready to begin this morning. The June 8 trial date was rescheduled after defense attorney James Rhodes said he was unable to adequately represent Canela because of a prescription painkiller he was taking at the time. He declined to make any comment yesterday on his medical condition, but he said he's ready to proceed.

Espinoza's attorney, Timothy M. Dixon, could not be reached yesterday.

"We were ready for trial Wednesday, June 8," Joseph Sviatko, spokesman for the state's attorney's office, said yesterday. "And we'll be ready for trial [today]."

Two judges warned all of the lawyers last month that any further delays in the case would be met with scorn. Circuit Judge Lynn K. Stewart, who grants postponements, said that even if one of the lawyers becomes gravely ill or dies, she was not likely to delay the case again.

The day before last month's false start, Rhodes and Espinoza's attorney, Dixon, outlined part of their defense strategies. Each said they planned to tell jurors about other possible suspects. And in a pretrial motion, Rhodes revealed that Canela's brother would testify as an alibi witness.

Prosecutors said they may call as many as 100 witnesses during the complex case, which involves DNA evidence. They have not indicated whether they will present the jury with a motive for the slayings.

Retired Circuit Judge Thomas Ward will preside over the case in the largest courtroom of Courthouse East. Because both defendants are Spanish speakers, two interpreters will be present. Each defendant has two defense attorneys.

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