About an hour before finding the bloodied bodies of their elementary school-age children, the mothers were parked at a nearby bank, praying and fretting, one mother testified yesterday at the trial of the accused killers.
Noemi "Mimi" Espinoza Quezada, mother of 8-year-old Lucero and 9-year-old Ricardo, said she had a "premonition" that afternoon and began praying to San Judas Tadeo, the patron saint of lost causes. Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, the mother of 10-year-old Alexis, got out of the car and smoked a cigarette, Noemi Quezada said.
"I believe as a mother that we already had a sense that something was going to happen to us, a sense that something was already happening," Noemi Quezada testified yesterday, speaking through a Spanish interpreter.
By 5 p.m. that day, May 27 of last year, at the family's Fallstaff apartment, the two mothers would find their children dead - their throats cut so deeply that they all were nearly decapitated.
The children's uncle, Policarpio Espinoza, 23, and cousin, Adan Canela, 18, are on trial facing three counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy charges. They could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Defense attorneys for the two men say that police have arrested the wrong men, and named other potential suspects in their opening statements Friday. Prosecutors say they can link the defendants to the crime through DNA, but have not offered a motive.
Assistant State's Attorney Sharon R. Holback said during her opening that Espinoza and Canela conspired with each other, and with "persons unknown," to commit the brutal and shocking murders.
Holback also told jurors that the victims' family had sent police on a "wild goose chase" by naming a man whom police arrested but quickly released. The prosecutor has used an unusually aggressive tone in questioning relatives of the dead children, as she did yesterday when she quizzed Noemi Quezada about the praying. Holback has hinted to the jury that relatives are not revealing everything they know.
Names continue to vary with nearly each witness. Even the mother and father of the dead brother and sister use different last names for their children.
Yesterday, Victor Espinoza Perez - Canela's father and Policarpio Espinoza's brother - finished his testimony that began Friday afternoon. He is expected to testify again as a defense witness. Canela's attorney, James Rhodes, discussed two theories of motive in his opening, both of which involve his client's father.
The portrait of Victor Perez that has begun to emerge from court testimony is one of a man totally in control of his family members, who over the past decade have illegally immigrated to Baltimore from a small village in Veracruz, Mexico. He testified to having a first-grade education and nine children. He said he has been in America for about five years.
Baltimore homicide Detective Irvin C. Bradley testified yesterday that as he questioned relatives at the crime scene, they would steal glances at Victor Perez. Bradley said he believed the family was "reluctant" to help investigators.
In his own testimony, Victor Perez said much of the family's belongings and property were in his name, including cellular phones, cars, the family's lunch cart business, the apartment where the children were killed and the Baltimore County home where the two defendants lived.
Rhodes suggested in his opening that Victor Perez was responsible for transporting illegal immigrants into the country, charging up to $2,500 per person, but he did not question the man about that yesterday.
Noemi Quezada testified next, moving to the witness chair from a spot in the courtroom audience, where she had been dabbing at tears. A few weeks ago, she said, she had a stroke; several months ago, she gave birth to a baby daughter, whom she named Lucero.
She said she had no particular reason to pray while she sat in a car at a bank the afternoon of the slayings. When pressed by Holback as to whether there was anything in particular she was concerned about, Noemi Quezada said that she had a "premonition" of something bad.
A Roman Catholic, she said she frequently prays to San Judas Tadeo, also called St. Jude, a saint often invoked by those who find themselves in desperate situations.
Noemi Quezada's testimony also helped prosecutors establish a timeline for the killings. She said the family, which operated its three food trucks at local construction sites, ended work about 1:30 p.m. that day. They ran errands in Towson, stopped at a bank on Reisterstown Road and headed to pick up Maria Quezada's young daughter from a baby sitter by about 4 p.m.
The group, which included Noemi Quezada's husband, Ricardo Espinoza Perez, got to the apartment they shared by about 4:40 p.m., Noemi Quezada testified. She said no one had brought their keys with them that day and that they rang the bell so the children would let them inside.
When the children didn't answer the door, Noemi Quezada said she used her husband's cell phone to call the apartment phone about 5 p.m. She could not explain why she waited 20 minutes to do so.
By 5:35 p.m., someone had made phone calls to Policarpio Espinoza and Victor Perez on the cell phone used by Noemi Quezada and her husband.
Bradley is scheduled to continue being cross-examined this morning by defense attorneys, who say the trial could stretch into early next month.