Eager to return to their lives, jurors recount murder trial

After seeing reports, one doubts his not-guilty vote

September 04, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Exhausted and eager to resume his life, juror Keith Brown went home to his fiancee and 2-year-old son after a hung jury ended the Baltimore murder trial that consumed his summer.

Curiosity pulled him to his computer and to the Internet. Despite weeks of testimony and days of sometimes acrimonious discussions with fellow jurors, Brown said he needed to learn more about Policarpio Espinoza and Adan Canela, the men accused of slashing the throats of three children, the men whose fates he had deliberated.

In the days after being released from their seemingly endless tour of jury duty, the 12 men and women who spent 39 days together but ultimately could not reach any unanimous decisions tried to get back to normal.

One said he feels haunted by the trial.

Jurors described a confusing case in which prosecutors offered no motive for an especially gruesome crime. The suspects' young relatives, ages 8, 9 and 10, had their throats slashed so deeply that they all were nearly decapitated. A retrial has been set for March 1.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas Ward declared a mistrial Tuesday. Until then, the jurors were known only by their jury numbers and through their written questions to the judge. They had to keep secrets from their families and avoid reading or watching any of the daily news coverage of the case.

Doubting vote

Intrigued by the formerly forbidden, Brown said he "jumped on the Internet" as soon as he came home from court for the last time on Tuesday. What he read about Espinoza and Canela, he said, made his stomach turn.

Brown said he was particularly disturbed to read news accounts that gave more details about Espinoza's tape-recorded police statement than what was presented at the trial.

"Now I feel like they very well are guilty," he said, adding that he had voted to convict Espinoza but acquit Canela. "It makes me feel sick because I had the chance to do something."

According to an unedited transcript of the statement, Espinoza said he and his nephew, Canela, had been at the children's apartment complex about the same time as the killings. Espinoza told police he stayed outside in the car while Canela went inside.

But because of evidence rules, jurors never learned that Espinoza had mentioned Canela.

"I just wish that had been explained to us," Brown said. "Not knowing that, it seemed so weird for police not to ask about Adan. We couldn't figure out what was going on with that statement."

Jurors' efforts

Brown's account of what happened inside the jury room has his fellow deliberators deeply engaged in their effort to understand what happened as they endeavored to reach an appropriate, unanimous verdict. They undertook several ambitious tasks, which could help explain the unusual length of the deliberations that lasted 10 full days.

In the end, jurors said they were split 6-6 to convict Canela and 8-4 in favor of convicting Espinoza. Brown said they never discussed individual charges, striving first to get a sense of how each juror felt in general about the guilt or innocence of each man.

A couple of jurors came into deliberations wanting to convict, a couple came in wanting to acquit, Brown said, and the rest were somewhere in the middle.

Brown said no one had an obvious bias against the Baltimore police - who were accused by defense lawyers of misconduct - and several jurors had positive things to say about them. Juror No. 9, for example, is married to a state correctional officer. She could not be reached for comment after the trial.

Motive `mystery'

Other jurors shared their impressions as they walked out of the courtroom.

Mike Johnson said motive "was the big mystery." Others said the absence of a clear motive didn't matter. Two jurors said they believed a prosecutor's assertion that the motive was "some secret buried deep within the family" - but didn't quite know what to make of that.

One juror, who refused to allow her name to be published and said she voted to convict both men, said jurors saw a family conspiracy.

Juror Henrietta Butler, who said she voted to convict both defendants, said no motive would have been good enough to comprehend such a brutal crime.

During deliberations, jurors filed into a room behind the dimly lit second-floor courtroom at 9:30 each morning. The jury room was crammed with many of the 300 exhibits that were entered as evidence in the trial, and a chalkboard that they could use to try to make sense of it all.

Brown said they began each day by deciding topics they wanted to cover. They'd flip through their notebooks - Brown said he filled two and a half, and that some jurors even filled three - to see who had taken the best notes on a particular topic. That juror would lead the discussion, he said.

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