Bloodstained shirt now used by defense in children's killings

Attorney for 1 suspect asks homicide detective about unmatched DNA

July 13, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

The lead detective in last year's brutal slayings of three young children testified in court yesterday about a mysterious bloodstained shirt that was found in the home of the defendants.

Defense attorneys kept Baltimore homicide Detective Irvin C. Bradley on the stand all day, cross-examining him on whether evidence found at the chaotic homicide scene was contaminated and whether leads went unchecked.

One of the suspects' lawyers questioned Bradley about the shirt. Tests could not positively match the blood to any particular person. Defense attorneys have said that police arrested the wrong men in their haste to solve the shocking killings.

Policarpio Espinoza, 23, and his nephew, Adan Canela, 18, are on trial, facing three counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy charges in connection with the May 27, 2004, slayings at the Fallstaff apartment complex. They could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

In his testimony, Bradley described a crime scene so horrific that several police officers and paramedics became ill.

The Mexican immigrants are accused of slashing the throats of their relatives, an 8-year-old girl, her 9-year-old brother and their 10-year-old cousin. Prosecutors say they will connect Espinoza and Canela to the killings through DNA evidence.

The bloody shirt that Bradley testified about yesterday was mentioned frequently in the early days of the investigation, appearing as a T-shirt in charging documents and to the grand jury. But the shirt seemed to disappear from memory as the trial grew closer.

That shirt, actually a white tank top, was found in a laundry machine at the Baltimore County home where Espinoza and Canela lived with Canela's father, Victor Espinoza Perez, the detective testified. It had human bloodstains on it, but a DNA analysis of the blood has not yielded conclusive results about whose it was, Bradley said.

The uncertain test results could explain why Espinoza's defense attorney, not the prosecutors, elicited testimony about the shirt during the trial.

During opening statements last week, Assistant State's Attorney Sharon R. Holback made no mention of the shirt, only two bloodstained pairs of blue jeans with what could be the defendants' skin cells inside and a shoe worn by Espinoza with a tiny drop of the slain girl's blood on it.

Bradley also testified about a bloody fingerprint on the interior sill of the dining room window at the Fallstaff apartment. Police believe the killer used the window to escape.

But the detective said crime lab technicians found the print to be unsuitable for analysis.

As they appear to build a defense based, in part, on shoddy police work, attorneys for Espinoza and Canela also questioned Bradley about suspects who they believe were not fully investigated.

James Rhodes, the lead attorney for Canela, asked Bradley whether he had ever heard the name "Tilo Noriega." After shuffling through notes in one of his eight binders of paperwork, the detective said he had.

A prostitute who worked on Reisterstown Road had told detectives that "what she'd heard on the street" was that Noriega - his name was not spelled in court - was involved, Bradley said.

When asked by Rhodes whether Noriega should have been interviewed, Bradley replied that, yes he should have, but detectives were never able to find him.

Bradley later asserted that, other than Espinoza and Canela, police have identified no other suspects in the killing and that they are not looking for anyone else. Police don't believe anyone else was involved in any way, Bradley testified.

That seemed to contradict Holback's comment during her opening statements that the defendants conspired with each other "and persons unknown," a phrase she spoke emphatically.

But more questions emerged yesterday about Victor Espinoza Perez, who is at the center of two motives for the crime posited by Rhodes during opening statements.

Under one theory he laid out, Perez - Canela's father - was told by his wife to "take care of it" when she learned that he had a romantic interest in one of the slain children's mothers. And in the other theory, Perez was responsible for transporting illegal aliens across the border of Mexico.

As he cross-examined Bradley, Rhodes asked whether the detective recalled Juan Carlos Lara Canela, a brother of Adan Canela, telling him that Perez had charged him $2,500 to come to America. Prosecutors objected to the question, and Rhodes switched to a new topic. It's not clear whether Perez is Juan Canela's father, as he is Adan Canela's.

Perez's whereabouts the day of the killings remain in question. Bradley said Perez had told him that he was working at one of the food trucks he owned until about 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. that day. Rhodes asked whether that time differed from what detectives later learned.

"Yes, sir," Bradley replied. He said a check with the storage company where the food trucks were parked every night revealed that Perez finished work by about 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. On Monday, the mother of the slain brother and sister testified that the last time she saw Perez was about 9 a.m. and that the food truck he had been operating was already cleaned out and parked by the time her truck returned to the parking lot about 2 p.m.

When homicide detectives tried to interview Perez at an immigration office after the killings - it was unclear how long after - he asked for a lawyer and refused to speak with them, Bradley said.

The detective will continue testifying this morning.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.