Jurors sob at crime scene video of 3 slain children

Footage is so disturbing that court ends early

July 28, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Jurors wept yesterday, some uncontrollably, as prosecutors played for them horrifying video footage of the apartment where three children were found last year with their necks cut so deeply that all were nearly decapitated.

Coming after days of mostly monotonous testimony in the Baltimore trial of two Mexican immigrants charged with the killings, the crime scene video so deeply affected jurors that court ended early. The jurors left quickly, many still in tears, and several hugged each other outside the downtown courthouse.

Defense attorneys had made a motion to exclude either the video or equally graphic crime scene photos, saying they were redundant, but Circuit Judge Thomas Ward ruled that jurors could see everything. The photographs are to be introduced in court today.

Police shot the video footage late May 27, 2004, hours after the bodies of Lucero Espinoza, 8, her brother, Ricardo, 9, and their male cousin Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10, were found by their parents inside the family's Northwest Baltimore apartment. The children had been beaten and slashed. The boys also had been strangled.

The children's uncle, Policarpio Espinoza, 23, and a cousin, Adan Canela, 18, are on trial in Baltimore Circuit Court facing three counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy charges. The two could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

Defense attorneys say their clients are innocent, and other members of the victims' family, many of whom have testified, believe police arrested the wrong men in their haste to solve a crime that shocked the city.

Detective Thomas Martin, who oversaw the collection of evidence at the crime scene, began testifying yesterday afternoon as numerous brown paper bags of evidence were carted into the courtroom.

Martin could help prosecutors lay out much of their case against Espinoza and Canela. Prosecutors have said DNA links the defendants to two pairs of bloodstained blue jeans, but the jury has yet to see that evidence.

Martin showed jurors an aluminum baseball bat and a long, curved-tip meat-cutting knife with a black handle that police found wedged between a fence and a garage about 20 feet from the apartment. Both were bloody when police found them.

Jurors then held the suspected murder weapons.

Next came the video footage.

The tape begins with the cameraman walking into the foyer of the apartment. There is no audio. Martin answered a few of the prosecutor's questions as it played to a hushed courtroom.

In front of the camera is a small kitchen, with a rack full of dishes and a stove covered in foil. The camera zooms in on several red drops near the sink, which police believe to be blood. The camera pans over to the kitchen window. It is shut but covered with disheveled, broken blinds. Below is a partial footprint in dirt.

Ricardo Espinoza Perez, the father of Lucero and Ricardo, testified earlier that he had come in through the kitchen window when the children did not answer the apartment buzzer.

The videographer then walks into the adjoining dining room, where the camera tilts to show droplets of blood on the wooden floor.

"There were suspected blood droppings all throughout the floor," Martin said.

An open window in the dining room is covered in red plastic, which Martin explained was placed there by police when it began to rain. Detectives believe the killers left through that window. A close-up shows smears of red on the right side of the white window sill. Police have testified that it was a fingerprint in blood, but not one good enough to analyze.

The videographer slowly moves into the family living room. It is sparsely decorated; the white walls are bare. There's a small television on a shelving unit near another window.

The camera swivels toward the short hallway leading to the children's bedrooms.

Assistant State's Attorney Tony N. Garcia paused the video and warned jurors that they were "about to see graphic pictures."

Some jurors audibly gasped at what they saw next. Several covered their mouths. Some averted their eyes. Many wept.

Looking into the bedroom to the left, the rear bedroom, a girl's body lies near the doorway. A large stain of blood on the cream-colored carpet is near her neck. An edited-in black circle obscures her face.

A few feet behind her body lies a boy with visible wounds to his neck. He is covered in blankets.

Those are the bodies of Lucero and Ricardo Espinoza, a brother and sister who had told teachers at Cross Country Elementary School, where they were in third and fourth grade, that they were best friends.

Ricardo Espinoza Perez testified that he had cradled his dead daughter when he found the children.

"I grabbed my daughter by her arms and crouched down next to her and hugged her and loved her," he said.

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