Jurors display signs of friction

Notes might show doubt in ability to reach verdict

Men on trial in children's deaths

August 17, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Just a few hours into deliberations, the Baltimore jury deciding the fate of two men charged with killing their three young relatives is showing signs of discord.

Notes sent to the judge -- yesterday and during the trial -- show that jurors might have doubts about their ability to reach unanimous decisions on the charges facing Policarpio Espinoza and Adan Canela.

One juror asked yesterday whether a conspiracy charge could stand independent of a first-degree murder charge. The judge did not answer that question because defense attorneys argued it might influence the jury to convict. Jurors can decide to convict one or both of the defendants on any of the charges, which include first-degree murder and conspiracy.

Another note read: "How long do we have to come up with a decision?"

Espinoza, 23, and Canela, 18, are on trial in Baltimore Circuit Court in the May 27, 2004, deaths of an 8-year-old girl, her 9-year-old brother and their 10-year-old male cousin. Espinoza, the children's uncle, and Canela, their cousin, could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

Jurors were unusually inquisitive throughout the five-week trial, which involved more than two dozen witnesses and complicated DNA evidence, sending more than 60 notes to Circuit Judge Thomas Ward. Those notes and the gestures of some jurors indicate some infighting on the jury, particularly between the 42-year-old forewoman and an older female juror who sat behind her.

Yesterday morning, the jury sent Ward five steno-sized notebook pages of questions pertaining to many aspects of the case. They asked to hear testimony again from a forensic scientist who collected key DNA evidence and requested a transcript of testimony pertaining to whose fingerprints were on the car in which some of the evidence was found.

The jury wanted to listen to a recorded statement that Espinoza gave hours after the crime at police headquarters and see the written transcript of that interview. They also asked for testimony from a neighbor who told police she had seen the defendants lurking near the children's apartment two days before the crime.

Ward, after consulting with prosecutors and defense attorneys, chose not to answer nearly all of the questions, though he did allow jurors to review the Espinoza transcript for about an hour.

The notes yesterday came as no surprise to the lawyers and observers in the case, who have grown accustomed to this interactive jury. Ward told jurors early on that he would accept written questions from them, but so many notes came that he eventually told them to make their best effort not to ask questions.

In one note during the trial, jurors wondered whether they could ask questions about a witness who was no longer testifying.

Notes passed up by Juror No. 9 -- the woman who seems to be clashing with the forewoman -- have prompted defense attorneys to ask that she be struck from the jury. Ward denied those requests.

About two weeks ago, the forewoman passed a note to the judge as Espinoza's lawyer, Timothy M. Dixon, was cross-examining a prosecution witness.

The note, with misspellings, read: "Juror No. 9 is having a problem with accepting the defense doing it job. She has verbalized on many ocassions that she does not like Mr. Dixon. Husband or ex-husband was a policeman. She belief that we need to understand what the police were thinking."

Juror No. 9, who is 55, and the forewoman were among the most expressive jurors throughout the trial. The forewoman nodded emphatically as prosecutors and defense attorneys asked questions of some of the witnesses, but she nodded more frequently for the defense.

She often would lean over to Juror No. 2, a man about her age, and whisper. Jurors at the other end of the jury box also seemed to develop bonds. They smiled, whispered and exchanged knowing glances throughout the trial.

Juror No. 9 has appeared more aloof. She rarely spoke to other jurors, and sat with her arms crossed much of the time. She rolled her eyes during Dixon's cross-examination of several witnesses. She also rolled her eyes once after the forewoman made a comment to the judge.

Ward asked the jury to refrain from asking questions during the complicated testimony of a Baltimore police DNA expert, but No. 9's hand immediately shot up. Ward told her to put it down.

The rift between the forewoman and No. 9 isn't the only apparent personality clash on the jury. Midway through the trial, one juror sent the judge a desperate note: "Can it be addressed regarding jurors chewing and popping gum in the other jurors ears. Please." The last word was underlined.

Jurors will resume deliberations this morning.

In another development yesterday, the president of the Baltimore police union demanded that Dixon, a former city police lieutenant, apologize for saying in his closing arguments Monday that detectives had "manufactured" evidence to "frame" the defendants.

"This is totally irresponsible to make these comments," Lt. Frederick V. Roussey said at a news conference. "He has to present a defense. But this here is below the belt."

Dixon later replied: "I have no apology."

Sun staff writer Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.

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