Same suspects, slightly new strategy

Subtle changes in child killings retrial

July 01, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

There were subtle differences - in style, not substance - yesterday as the retrial began in the case of Policarpio Espinoza and Adan Canela, two Mexican immigrants accused of slashing the throats of their three young relatives.

Jurors in the trial last summer could not reach a verdict, an outcome that some of them attributed to confusion about the evidence and the lack of a clear motive in such a brutal crime.

Lucero Espinoza, 8, her brother, Ricardo Espinoza, 9, and their male cousin, Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10, were killed May 27, 2004, in their bedrooms in the family's Northwest Baltimore apartment. All were beaten and nearly decapitated; the boys were strangled.

Opening statements yesterday showed the lawyers might have taken cues from the first trial.

This time, the prosecutor bluntly stated in her opening, "We don't have motive." Instead, she emphasized DNA evidence as she described bloody clothing and gave jurors probability figures on whether the genetic evidence is tied to the defendants.

"We might not have motive, but we sure as heck have DNA," Assistant State's Attorney Sharon R. Holback told the freshly seated panel of 12 jurors and six alternates.

Although this opening statement included a more detailed preview of the evidence, Holback revealed no new bombshells.

The defense attorneys made little eye contact and sat separated by an empty chair - gestures that reflected Canela's new defense tactic of blaming Espinoza.

James Rhodes, who represents Canela, 19, spent much of his opening telling jurors about "a large amount of evidence" against Espinoza. By contrast, Rhodes said, "no DNA places Adan at the scene of this incident."

Jurors in the first trial reported being split 6-6 on whether to convict Canela and 8-4 in favor of convicting Espinoza.

In his opening, Nicholas Panteleakis, who represents Espinoza, 24, repeatedly compared the case to "a puzzle" with pieces that don't fit, language that seemed to be borrowed directly from a juror in the first trial, who called the case "a big puzzle and a lot of missing pieces."

"The government doesn't know what happened," Panteleakis said. "They're going to present you a big jigsaw puzzle and hope you can figure out what happened."

In her opening, Holback tried to explain why the puzzle pieces might not all be there.

"This is a family murder," she said. "This is family killing family. They are not going to tell you why their children suffered and died."

Espinoza is an uncle of Ricardo and Lucero, and Canela is a cousin to them. Alexis, a cousin of Ricardo and Lucero, was not related by blood to the defendants.

The victims, the defendants and many relatives immigrated illegally to Baltimore from a small village in Veracruz, Mexico.

Holback hinted that relatives of the slain children would again be testifying. But she told jurors that "they know, but they're not going to tell you" what happened to the children because they are "too scared."

The parents of the children, Noemi "Mimi" Espinoza Quezada, Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada and Ricardo Espinoza Perez - who is the brother of Policarpio Espinoza and an uncle of Canela - were not in the courtroom gallery yesterday during opening statements.

They were a regular presence during the first trial, which began July 6 and ended Aug. 31.

Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell told the new jurors to prepare themselves for a long summer.

"It's a marathon," he said, "not a sprint."

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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