Jury still unable to reach verdict in killing of children

Judge's questions to forewoman after nine days of deliberations set stage for declaring a mistrial

Metro

News from around the Baltimore region

August 30, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Jurors deciding the fate of two Mexican immigrants charged with slashing the throats of three young relatives are to be back in a Baltimore court this morning, even though the forewoman told the judge yesterday that she does not believe she and her fellow jurors will ever be able to reach a verdict.

After nine full days of deliberations in the trial of Policarpio Espinoza and Adan Canela, the judge set the stage yesterday to declare a mistrial by asking the forewoman a series of questions about the chances that the jury can come to a unanimous decisions in the lengthy, complex case.

3 counts of first-degree murder

Espinoza, 23, and Canela, 18, are each charged with three counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the May 27, 2004, slashing deaths of an 8-year-old girl, her 9-year-old brother and their 10-year-old male cousin in Northwest Baltimore. The men could be sentenced to life in prison, if convicted.

The forewoman looked solemn and thoughtful before answering Circuit Judge Thomas Ward's questions in a soft voice.

"Can you tell me, do you hope or expect to reach a unanimous verdict in this case anytime soon?" Ward asked.

"No," the forewoman replied.

She sent Ward a note Wednesday saying they were a hung jury, at which time the judge read jurors the Allen charge, a pre- written statement urging them to work toward a verdict. Yesterday, Ward asked whether their position had changed.

"Very little," the forewoman said.

"Do you believe that further deliberations will change that?" Ward asked.

"No," she said.

Ward then inquired whether the forewoman believed she was speaking for the entire jury. She said she was speaking for only "part of it."

The judge's final question to her was whether she felt that further deliberations "will be of any value."

"I can't answer that," the forewoman said.

Ward asked the jury to step out of the courtroom while he discussed the situation with prosecutors and defense attorneys. He decided to send the jury back to keep deliberating.

Five weeks of testimony

Jurors have been sifting through five weeks of testimony in a case that involves DNA evidence and no clear motive. On Friday, the forewoman sent a note to the judge in which she described how the length of trial was beginning to affect jurors' personal lives. She asked to leave court early yesterday to greet her child after the first day of school - a request the judge denied. She also said some jurors were beginning to feel the financial strain of being out of work all summer.

The jury has been unusually active in the trial, asking more than 60 questions during the testimony and more than a dozen during deliberations. The judge belatedly granted one of their requests yesterday.

They had asked Aug. 18 to see part of a television newscast that was entered into evidence. The footage showed the parents of two of the slain children embracing at the crime scene. But when the judge tried to play it, the tape was accidentally erased.

Yesterday, Ward showed the jury footage that he was shot about the same time, though what he played was a different newscast than what was entered into evidence in the case.

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