Jurors get their first look at prosecution evidence

Murder trial continues in deaths of 3 children

July 29, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Baltimore prosecutors introduced yesterday tantalizing evidence against two men on trial in the killing of three children - only to have a defense attorney point out during cross-examination that much of it amounted to nothing.

Stains found inside a bathroom of the house where the defendants lived tested "negative for human blood." And one of the most potentially dramatic pieces of evidence, strands of hair clutched in the bloody hand of the little girl who was killed, also had no evidentiary value because there were too few hairs to properly test.

Still largely unchallenged is what prosecutors consider the linchpin of their case, two pairs of blue jeans that they say have blood from the children and skin cells from the defendants.

Policarpio Espinoza, 23, and his nephew, Adan Canela, 18, are charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the slashing deaths of their relatives, an 8-year-old girl, her 9-year-old brother and their 10-year-old male cousin. The killings occurred May 27, 2004, in the family's Northwest Baltimore apartment.

Yesterday, almost three weeks into the trial, the detective responsible for evidence collection in the case told jurors about clothing and other items he found at the Fallstaff crime scene, throughout the defendants' home on Bedford Road in Baltimore County and inside a Pontiac Grand Am they drove.

Jurors appeared riveted as Detective Thomas Martin opened bags of evidence while he stood directly in front of the jury box.

Martin showed pictures of several hairs in the hand and on a leg of the slain 8-year-old, Lucero Espinoza. He told jurors about piles of clothing, including some articles that appeared to be bloody, at the Bedford Road home. There, he said, police also saw drops of what looked like blood around the tub and sink in the bathroom.

And Martin displayed two work gloves and one pair of blue jeans that appeared blood-stained that investigators had found in the Pontiac.

The onslaught of evidence came a day after prosecutors played for the jury a horrifying crime scene video that included footage of the children's brutalized bodies. Their necks were cut so deeply that all were nearly decapitated.

Yesterday was the first day jurors were able to see some of the evidence that prosecutors say connects Espinoza and Canela to the crime scene. In her opening statements this month, Assistant State's Attorney Sharon R. Holback said that one pair of blood-stained blue jeans found in the defendants' bedroom has Espinoza's skin cells on them. Another blood-stained pair, she said, was found in the trunk of Espinoza's car and contains Canela's skin cells.

Jurors saw those jeans yesterday. The pair found at the home has a brown smear on the rear of the left leg. A small hole was cut out so that it could be analyzed. The results have not yet been disclosed to the jury. The pair found in the car is darker, and no blood was visible on them from a seat in the courtroom gallery.

Defense attorneys have long said prosecutors are overstating the evidence they have and that police, in their haste to solve a crime that shocked Baltimore, arrested the wrong men.

The cross-examination yesterday afternoon of Martin by one of Espinoza's attorneys followed that track.

Attorney Nicholas Panteleakis showed Martin some of the trace analysis reports in the case and asked him to tell jurors what each one said.

An analysis of the swabbing from a stain inside the Bedford Road bathroom came back "negative for human blood," Martin said.

"They had no value for this case," he said.

Dozens of articles of clothing were taken from the home, including a tank top on top of a washing machine that Martin said appeared to have blood on it. Charging documents for Espinoza and Canela mentioned a T-shirt and a towel that appeared to be covered with blood.

But just a single pair of blue jeans retained value as evidence, Martin said.

"That was the only thing there that could be linked to this crime, wasn't it?," Panteleakis asked. Martin replied, "Yes."

After reading an analysis of the hairs found on Lucero, Martin told jurors that they were "of no value" because there weren't enough to be tested.

A few weeks ago jurors heard about another promising piece of evidence that was unsuitable for analysis: a bloody fingerprint on the interior window sill of the dining room window from which detectives believe the killers escaped.

The stained blue jeans found at Bedford Road - which Holback said links Espinoza to the slain children - were recovered by detectives the day after the slayings but not analyzed until Sept. 30, four months later.

Martin was not asked to explain the delay.

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