Lawyers for 2 murder suspects question DNA evidence in trial

Medical examiner takes stand in case involving 3 slain children

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August 10, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Defense attorneys worked yesterday to cast doubt on key pieces of DNA evidence against their clients, saying the men on trial in the slashing deaths of three children are so closely related to the victims that they all have similar genetic profiles.

Under questioning by an attorney for the younger man on trial in Baltimore Circuit Court, the city police DNA expert said she could not conclusively match Adan Canela's DNA to debris found inside one of the bloody gloves that prosecutors argue link the men to the crime.

Canela, 18, and his uncle, Policarpio Espinoza, 23, are charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the May 27, 2004, deaths of an 8-year-old girl, her 9-year-old brother and their 10-year-old male cousin. Canela is a cousin of the children, and Espinoza is an uncle.

By the end of yesterday, prosecutors had called what could be their final witness: Dr. Carol H. Allan, a medical examiner.

Allan, an assistant state medical examiner and forensic pathologist, will continue testifying today about autopsies she did on Lucero and Ricardo Espinoza and Alexis Espejo Quezada. Prosecutors say the children were beaten and strangled and had their necks slashed in their family's Northwest Baltimore apartment.

A Baltimore police DNA expert previously told jurors that debris, such as skin cells, inside a pair of blue jeans found in a car the defendants drove is consistent with Canela's genetic profile. The expert also testified that debris inside another pair, found in the bedroom of the men's Baltimore County home, was consistent with Espinoza's. Both pairs were stained with the blood of the children, witnesses have said.

Police also found two left-handed work gloves in the defendants' car, stained with the children's blood. DNA consistent with Espinoza was in both gloves and DNA consistent with Canela was in one of them, said DNA expert Lynnett Redhead.

Attorney James Rhodes elicited testimony from Redhead in which she said that Canela cannot conclusively be matched to the DNA inside either glove. Only three of the 13 alleles in Canela's DNA are unique to him when compared with Espinoza, the slain children and the children's parents. None of those unique alleles was present inside the gloves, Redhead said.

Under questioning later by a prosecutor, the DNA expert reiterated that Canela's entire DNA profile - including the three unique alleles - was found inside a dark pair of No Boundaries brand blue jeans that are stained with the children's blood.

Redhead also said, during redirect examination by Assistant State's Attorney Sharon R. Holback, that Espinoza's entire DNA profile, including alleles unique to him when compared with the other DNA samples collected in the case, was inside both gloves and the lighter pair of bloodstained blue jeans found at his house.

Redhead said in response to questions from defense attorneys that there is no way of knowing whether the debris inside the articles of clothing was left there by someone who wore the items or someone who merely touched them.

She also said it is impossible to tell how long the DNA had been on the items.

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