Jurors were determined to arrive at a verdict

August 09, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

They didn't want to end up like the first jury.

These jurors were confident that they would reach a verdict in the trial of Policarpio Espinoza and Adan Canela, the two men accused of killing three young relatives. And yesterday, just as Day 4 of deliberations began, they did.

Twelve men and women, all Baltimore residents but as varied as a 20-year-old student and a 72-year-old retired nurse, have watched their summer slip away in the chilled but stale air of a second-floor courtroom in Courthouse East. Each was paid $50 a day.

They took their seats in the jury box at the end of June. For the next six weeks, they listened to the gruesome details and tedious DNA lessons in a case that the prosecutor called the most complicated she had ever presented.

The brutal deaths of Lucero Espinoza, 8, her brother Ricardo Espinoza, 9, and their cousin Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10, weighed heavily on the jury, said James Drake, Juror No. 3.

"It hit home a lot," he said. "You'd leave thinking about your children, your grandchildren."

It was an experience similar to that of the 12 jurors who sat in the same seats last summer and listened to much of the same evidence and same arguments, presented mostly by the same lawyers.

After 10 days of deliberations, those jurors could not agree generally on the guilt or innocence of the defendants, let alone discuss the numerous individual charges against each defendant.

The jurors who spoke after they were released from their marathon duty about noon yesterday said they could not imagine the disappointment last year's jury must have felt.

"I feel terrible for the first jury to have gone through all of that," said Gregory Hooker, Juror No. 7. "A guilty verdict makes it easier to deal with everything that we've seen."

Christopher Lewis, Juror No. 10, said jurors knew as they began their deliberations Thursday that the previous trial of Espinoza and Canela had ended in a hung jury. Lawyers and witnesses in the new trial referred to the mistrial only as "a prior court proceeding."

Lewis said he and the other jurors did not theorize about what might have happened in the previous trial, but they did make one resolution: "We did not want to have a mistrial," he said. "We knew we had to pull together."

Hooker said, "It took us some time to jell, with all of our different backgrounds."

The jury was led by forewoman Hattie M. Bruce, a 72-year-old retired nurse. She declined to talk yesterday. It included Hooker, a 42-year-old mailman; Lewis, a 37-year-old manager; and Drake, a 40-year-old factory worker.

There was Tyron Harper, a 20-year-old student. There was the 21-year-old, single woman who wore T-shirts saying "Cute" and "He loves me. I love his friends." And there was the man who came to court in khakis and long-sleeved, button-down dress shirts, regardless of the heat.

Harper, Juror No. 8, said he had "met a lot of great people. We were family." Drake, Lewis and Hooker have become drinking buddies.

Not that everything was smooth in the deliberations room.

"It was mayhem," Drake said. The first three days, each beginning about 9:30 a.m. and ending in the early evening, were filled with rehashing the intricacies of the trial.

"We came in all pretty much being confident they were guilty of something, but there was haggling over the matter of degree," Lewis said.

"A lot of the evidence was circumstantial, but it was like Mr. Garcia said, `Connect the dots,'" Lewis said, referring to part of Assistant State's Attorney Tony N. Garcia's closing argument.

Lewis said he "applauds" the prosecution. Their "hands were tied behind their backs" because the family of the children who were killed would not cooperate with them, Lewis said.

Hooker said the defense did a good job, too, but "there was only so much they could do."

"The evidence led right to them," Hooker said of Espinoza and Canela.

Day 3 of deliberations - Monday - was the hardest, jurors said.

One juror was not sure that Espinoza and Canela were guilty of first-degree murder, which requires premeditation. But the jurors did not let that derail their mission of reaching a verdict.

Hooker said he proposed a compromise in which the defendants would be found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Ricardo Espinoza, who was probably the first victim, saying his death might have been accidental.

But even if that death had been an accident, which most jurors found improbable, the men made a conscious choice to kill the other two, elevating it to first-degree murder, Hooker said.

Yesterday morning, everything came together and, an hour after settling into their deliberations room, the jurors pressed the buzzer to alert Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell that they had made their decisions.

There was some confusion when the verdicts were read, which the jurors later attributed to the complicated and formal verdict sheets.

Mitchell thanked them for their time and their attention. He sent them off with a "Godspeed."

Then they were free to leave.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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