The 15-year-old brother of a defendant on trial in the slashing deaths of three children testified yesterday that one of the two suspects may have been at home in Baltimore County about the same time police believe the crime occurred in Northwest Baltimore.
Jesus Espinoza, who testified as an alibi witness for his brother, Adan Canela, was the final person to take the stand in the five-week-long Baltimore Circuit Court trial. Defense attorneys for Canela and Policarpio Espinoza rested their cases yesterday afternoon, paving the way for jurors to hear closing arguments and begin their deliberations as early as today.
Canela, 18, and Policarpio Espinoza, 23, are charged with three counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the May 27, 2004, killings of Lucero Espinoza, 8, her brother Ricardo Espinoza, 9, and their male cousin Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10. Canela, a cousin of the children, and Policarpio Espinoza, an uncle, could face life in prison if convicted.
The prosecution case lasted 24 days and included more than 20 witnesses. Policarpio Espinoza's defense consisted of four witnesses who testified over several hours yesterday. Canela's attorneys called two people to the stand.
Giving emotional testimony about how he loves his brother and uncle and doesn't want to see them go to prison, Jesus Espinoza said he does not believe either one would have hurt the children.
"Every time I was sad, my uncle would cheer me up," Jesus Espinoza said, wiping tears from his eyes.
The teenager also said he remembered thinking that someone else was at his family's Baltimore County home when he returned from school about 3:30 p.m. the day of the killings. He said he heard a Spanish television station and Spanish pop music playing on a radio in the attic bedroom that Canela and Policarpio Espinoza shared.
Jesus Espinoza and his siblings lived there with his father, Victor Espinoza Perez, and mother, Guadalupe Juarez Hernandez. Perez is Canela's father and Policarpio Espinoza's brother.
The entire family emigrated to Baltimore illegally from a village in Veracruz, Mexico.
Jesus Espinoza said he did not go see who was home because he was not allowed into the room. Instead, he and his younger brother went to the basement. Jesus Espinoza said he heard one set of footsteps coming down the stairs to the first floor about 4:45 p.m.
Police believe the children were killed about 3:40 p.m., a short time after they arrived home from Cross Country Elementary School, where they were third- and fourth-graders. The children were beaten and strangled, and their necks were cut so deeply that all were nearly decapitated.
Under cross-examination by Assistant State's Attorney Sharon R. Holback, the teenager said he did not tell anyone about hearing the TV and music until a few months ago, when he discussed it with James Rhodes, one of Canela's attorneys. Jesus Espinoza said no one in his family talked to him about what happened, so he did not realize when the crime occurred.
"Nobody wanted to talk to me," he said, referring to other family members, who he said tried to shield him from learning about the slayings.
He also said he was reluctant to speak with police and prosecutors because he was "scared of the tape recorder." Earlier this year, prosecutors tried to get him to give a taped statement, but he refused.
Jesus Espinoza said his mother had told him not to give a taped statement because she believed that after she gave one, police thought she was somehow involved in the crime.
Defense witnesses for Policarpio Espinoza included the mother and father of Lucero and Ricardo, who both testified about how well Policarpio Espinoza got along with children.
Attorneys for Canela and Policarpio Espinoza highlighted the close relationships among family members in an effort to establish that their clients would have no reason to kill their relatives. Prosecutors did not offer a clear motive, but did show jurors several articles of clothing stained with the children's blood and containing DNA consistent with the defendants'.
Guadalupe Juarez Hernandez, Jesus Espinoza's mother and Canela's stepmother, testified again yesterday. A prosecutor and an attorney for Canela questioned her about 11 phone calls between her and Policarpio Espinoza, her brother-in-law, on the day of the killings.
Hernandez said she had a close relationship with her brother-in-law and that it was not unusual for them to call each other frequently.
Prosecutors and Canela's attorneys have questioned Hernandez's behavior around the time of the killings and have implied that she and other family members, specifically, her husband, Victor Espinoza Perez, may know more than they say.
Canela's attorney, Rhodes, had said in his opening statements that Hernandez might have learned that her husband was romantically interested in Alexis Espejo Quezada's mother and asked him to "go over and take care of it."
When Hernandez took the stand weeks ago, a prosecutor asked her whether she was "jealous" of Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, Alexis' mother, and whether anything was "going on" between the two. Hernandez answered "no" to both questions.