Defense opens its case in murder trial with expert disputing DNA findings

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August 11, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Prosecutors rested their case yesterday in the Baltimore trial of two men accused of killing three children, and defense attorneys began their presentations by calling to the stand a DNA expert to cast doubt on key evidence against their clients.

Over 24 days of testimony, jurors heard from more than 20 state witnesses in the Circuit Court trial of Policarpio Espinoza, 23, and his nephew, Adan Canela, 18. Prosecution witnesses said the defendants could be linked to the children's deaths through DNA on two pairs of bloodstained blue jeans and two bloody work gloves.

Espinoza and Canela are charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the May 27, 2004, slashing deaths of Lucero Espinoza, 8, her brother Ricardo, 9, and their cousin Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10. Espinoza is the children's uncle, and Canela is a cousin.

Canela's attorney called to the stand Alan L. Friedman, who runs a DNA analysis facility in Milwaukee. He said he reviewed the Baltimore police crime laboratory's DNA analysis of evidence against Canela and reached different conclusions from those of the prosecutors' expert.

Friedman's testimony, which continues this morning, tracks with Canela's attorney's cross-examination of Baltimore DNA expert Lynnett Redhead. Under questioning from attorney James Rhodes on Tuesday, Redhead testified that debris, such as skin cells, taken from inside the work gloves cannot conclusively be matched to Canela because he has many genetic similarities to the other defendant, the victims and the children's parents.

The defense DNA expert took it a step further yesterday and testified that because three components of DNA that are unique to Canela when compared with the others were not found in the glove debris, he could be ruled out as having worn them.

A pair of blue jeans, however, does contain Canela's entire DNA profile, Redhead said. And both gloves and another pair of jeans have debris consistent with Espinoza's genetic profile.

Friedman's testimony followed a graphic presentation during the morning session by the prosecutors' final witness, a medical examiner. Jurors were grim-faced during the testimony but did not show outward emotion as they did during a crime-scene video shown weeks ago. The parents of Lucero and Ricardo, who had been absent from the courtroom for more than a week, walked in but left quickly when prosecutors explained what was happening.

Dr. Carol H. Allan, an assistant state medical examiner, showed jurors numerous black and white autopsy photographs of the children and their wounds. Allan explained just how deeply their necks were cut and said the injury patterns indicated there had been a sawing motion with a knife instead of a single slash.

Multiple causes of death were listed on the death certificates of all three children because each was beaten on the head. The two boys also were strangled.

Police found a 17-inch knife and an aluminum baseball bat behind the apartment where the bodies were found. Both items were stained with the children's blood.

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