Relatives `happy' about lack of verdict

2 men charged in killings `not guilty,' a friend says

August 31, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz and Kelly Brewington | Julie Bykowicz and Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

The parents of a little girl and boy who were brutally killed with their cousin last year assembled yesterday at a Baltimore law office with the defenders of the men accused of killing their children.

The relatives were "happy," a family friend said, that the jury could not reach a verdict in the trial of Policarpio Espinoza and Adan Canela, causing the judge to declare a mistrial.

"One of these days this trial is going to be over," said Jorge "George" Zapada. "They're going to find out these [men] are not guilty."

The unusual scene capped a trial in which the family of illegal Mexican immigrants -- from the defendants to the parents of the slain children -- played starring, if confusing, roles.

Prosecutors said the victims' parents, who are related to the men charged, perhaps know more than they told police about what happened to their children. And other relatives of the children, prosecutors hinted, might have conspired with the defendants to kill the children because of a "family secret." Prosecutors treated the relatives aggressively on the stand.

A defense attorney said prosecutors tried to use the jury's lack of familiarity with Mexican culture throughout the trial.

"The state planted some sort of seed that there is something wrong with these people," said Timothy M. Dixon, an attorney for Espinoza. "They played on cultural differences. They played on racial differences. They played on religion. They tried to make these people sound like they are strange. They are just from another country. There is no evidence that anyone in this family committed this crime."

Ricardo Espinoza Perez and Noemi "Mimi" Espinoza Quezada, mother and father of Lucero, 8, and Ricardo, 9, have unswervingly said from the day their children's bodies were found that they don't believe Espinoza and Canela are guilty.

"I think they are innocent," Quezada said in Spanish during an interview last week in the hallways of Baltimore Circuit Court, as she waited to hear the jury's verdict. "I've never had a problem with them. I don't have a doubt. They never bothered me and never showed any suspicions when they took care of my children."

Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, the mother of Alexis Espejo Quezada, the 10-year-old boy who was killed, is "not sure what she believes," said Noemi Quezeda, the woman's aunt.

"She says [the prosecutors] have to show us proof," Noemi Quezada said. "They haven't shown enough proof for her."

Maria Quezada has been staying with relatives in New York and was not present at most of the trial, including yesterday.

Espinoza, 23, and Canela, 18, are charged with beating and slashing the throats of the children shortly after they arrived home May 27, 2004, from Cross Country Elementary School.

The children were normal little kids with big dreams, Noemi Quezada said in a recent interview. Lucero wanted to be a police detective and Ricardo wanted to be a doctor, she said.

"My son would tell me he wanted to buy me a house," she said. "He would say, 'Mommy, when you are old, I'm going to take care of you.'"

Espinoza is the children's uncle and Canela is a cousin. The relationships in the Mexican family came up often during the five weeks of testimony. All of them immigrated illegally to Baltimore from a village in Veracruz.

The complicated family tree added to the confusion, blurring any clear distinction between adversary and victim. The parents of the slain children testified as prosecution witnesses, but at times seemed to be playing for the defense. They said the defendants had a good relationship with the victims and that they didn't believe the accused committed the crime.

Prosecutors and a defense lawyer discussed Canela's father, Victor Espinoza Perez, and raised questions about his behavior and whereabouts the afternoon of the killings. He was the one the relatives were afraid of when they offered less than helpful testimony, they said.

Also, the mother of one of the victims, Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, testified that one of the suspects, Canela, had made overtures toward her a month before the children were killed.

The parents and other relatives were allowed to remain in the country so that they could testify at the trial. A second trial might be months away.

Immigrations officials said they will consult with prosecutors on which family members might be called to testify.

Sun staff writers Matthew Hay Brown and Lynn Anderson contributed to this article.

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