Victim's mother testifies in trial of men accused of killing children

Attorneys debate the acceptability of DNA sample as evidence in case

Metro: News from around the Baltimore region

July 26, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

The mother of a 10-year-old boy who along with his two younger cousins was killed last year in a Northwest Baltimore apartment began testifying yesterday in the trial of two men charged with the murders.

Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, who speaks little English, was visibly upset as a prosecutor questioned her about finding her son's nearly decapitated body May 27, 2004. Quezada referred to the killings as "the accident, the tragedy."

The children's uncle, Policarpio Espinoza, 23, and cousin, Adan Canela, 18, are on trial in Baltimore Circuit Court, facing three counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy charges.

Quezada, the mother of 10-year-old Alexis, will return to the witness stand this morning as prosecutors continue to build a case, which they say involves DNA evidence, against Espinoza and Canela. The parents of Lucero and Ricardo Espinoza, ages 8 and 9, testified earlier this month. Lucero and Ricardo's mother is Quezada's aunt.

Also yesterday, the Spanish-speaking detective who interviewed family members - and took a taped statement from Espinoza in which he places himself at the children's apartment the afternoon of the killings - was excused from the witness stand after five days of testimony.

As a marathon of more than 17 hours of cross-examination ended, Detective Juan Diaz said Canela steadfastly denied being at the children's apartment in two police interviews hours after the bodies were found.

In questioning Diaz, Canela's attorney, James Rhodes, raised questions about whether detectives investigated other possible suspects in the killings. Diaz said police learned that Victor Espinoza Perez, Canela's father, was involved in a business other than selling food out of trucks. This prompted Rhodes to ask whether police thought that might have played into a motive for killing the children, but the detective said police never fully investigated Perez's businesses because he refused to cooperate with them.

Rhodes, in his opening statements, said that Perez was responsible for transporting illegal immigrants from Mexico, but jurors have not yet heard evidence of that.

That testimony followed a morning hearing outside the presence of the jury on whether DNA results from the inside of two pairs of blue jeans should be allowed as evidence.

Defense attorneys unsuccessfully argued that skin cells from the jeans were collected with an instrument that has not yet been accepted as scientifically reliable.

The instrument in question was invented by Salvatore Bianca, who at the time was a Baltimore police crime lab technician. The vacuum-like device sucks in trace evidence, such as skin cells, and collects it on a swab that can then be submitted for DNA testing. Bianca has a patent pending on the device.

Calling it "Sal's homemade vacuum," Rhodes argued that there is no way to know how reliable the collection device is. Nicholas Panteleakis, an attorney for Espinoza, added, "the only verification that it works properly is that [Bianca] says so."

Assistant State's Attorney Sharon R. Holback said the defense motion was an unfounded attempt "to keep out DNA that would identify the pants as the defendants'."

Holback told jurors about the jeans in her opening statements, saying they were stained with the children's blood and could be connected to the defendants through DNA from their skin cells.

Circuit Judge Thomas Ward denied the defense motion but said jurors have a right to hear more about Bianca's invention during his cross-examination.

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