A verdict leaves the question of motive

August 09, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

Two trials. One hung jury. Two guilty verdicts. Three dead children.

And still no motive.

I was tempted to write "still no rational motive" in the 2004 murders of 8-year-old Lucero Espinoza, 9-year-old Ricardo Espinoza and 10-year-old Alexis Espejo Quezada. But we don't have a motive of any kind, rational or otherwise.

The three children were nearly decapitated in their Northwest Baltimore apartment two years ago. Policarpio Espinoza, the uncle of the slain children, and Adan Canela, their cousin, were charged with the killings.

Yesterday, a Baltimore Circuit Court jury found the pair guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of Ricardo and first-degree murder in the killings of Lucero and Alexis, as well as three counts of conspiracy to commit murder. Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, explained the difference in the verdicts.

"The jurors felt the state had clearly shown Ricardo was the first to be murdered and that the defendants made the decision not to leave after killing Ricardo," Burns said. "Therefore, the other two murders were premeditated."

That takes care of the matter of premeditation, but not motive, which was a problem for some jurors in the first trial that led to a hung jury.

During the second trial, defense attorneys once again tried to point the finger at someone other than their clients -- as any good defense lawyer will do. At one point, Espinoza's lawyer, Nicholas Panteleakis, questioned Noemi "Mimi" Espinoza Quezada, the mother of Lucero and Ricardo, about the husband of Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, the mother of Alexis.

Noemi told Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell in a bench conference that Maria Andrea's husband -- who still lives in Mexico -- had once threatened his wife. According to a July 17 article by Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz, Noemi said Maria Andrea's husband told her, "You're going to remember me, and you're going to cry tears of blood."

Mitchell ruled Noemi's revelation inadmissible. Maria Andrea testified that her husband never threatened her. And Assistant State's Attorneys Sharon R. Holback and Tony N. Garcia said there was a wealth of evidence that led jurors to convict, despite defense allegations of no motive.

"We had an awful lot of evidence, over 400 pieces," Garcia said. "No one piece did it."

Holback said that DNA evidence proved helpful and added that "the police working with us did an incredible job." She also had a few comments about motive or the lack thereof.

"The law doesn't really require precision on motive," Holback said. "It requires proof of what [the murderer] did, how he did it and that he did it."

Garcia said that, despite the defense claims of a lack of motive, "we found certain indicia of motive."

Those indicia were the conduct of the adult members of the slain children's family, which included, according to Holback, "jealousy [and] rage." One woman in the family had a miscarriage, Holback said, and that contributed to the family discord.

"Two weeks leading up to the murder," Holback said, "there were problems in the family culminating in the murder."

Those problems were perhaps hinted at by Detective Juan Diaz of the Baltimore Police Department, who was at the crime scene. According to Bykowicz's article, Diaz "said he found Maria Andrea screaming and sobbing uncontrollably, but no one else showed any outward emotion." Diaz concluded that "the whole family was weird."

Most members of that family have contended from the beginning that Espinoza and Canela were innocent. But according to Garcia and Holback, Maria Andrea -- the only one who showed any emotion at the crime scene, according to Diaz -- isn't one of them.

"Maria cried and hugged us and thanked us after the verdict," Holback said. Both Garcia and Holback said that Maria Andrea worked for her family at the Northwest Baltimore apartment. She lived there but had no keys to the apartment. She spoke little to no English.

"She was living like someone who was not wholly free," Holback said.

Maria Andrea, Espinoza, Canela, the children and most of the family members are or were illegal immigrants. If nothing else, maybe this case shows why illegal immigrants need to make themselves legal, sooner rather than later. If authorities don't know they're here, they're free to be abused by anyone.

Maria Andrea's cries and hugs and thanks might have been expressions of happiness after two long years of sadness. Garcia, the recipient of some of those hugs, might have best expressed Maria Andrea's feelings.

"You're always happy," Garcia said, "when justice is done."


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