Questions persist in murders

Police say others in family may be culpable in children's deaths


As he stood on the courthouse steps watching city prosecutors proudly announce the guilty verdicts they had won against two Mexican immigrants accused of killing their young relatives, Baltimore police Sgt. Darryl Massey had a different take.

"For us, it's not over," he said at the time. "Others played a role in these deaths. There are others to still be considered and looked at."

A week after a Baltimore jury convicted Policarpio Espinoza and Adan Canela of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, the lead detective on the case echoed Massey's reaction -- saying that police work remains to be done.

"All of us believe there were more people involved," said Detective Irvin Bradley.

Massey and Bradley said police would seek to interview Espinoza and Canela in the hopes that, without the burden of a pending murder trial, they might disclose additional information.

Lucero Espinoza, 8, her brother, Ricardo Espinoza, 9, and their male cousin Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10, were found with their throats slashed May 27, 2004, in a Northwest Baltimore apartment.

It was one of the city's most brutal crimes, and police have discovered no clear reason for it.

Prosecutors said the motive was "some secret buried in the family."

The children's uncle, Espinoza, 24, and cousin, Canela, 19, were the only ones charged. They were convicted Aug. 8 in a retrial, the first one having ended last summer in a mistrial.

But police and prosecutors have long hinted that other members of the large family of illegal immigrants might be culpable -- or perhaps even ordered the killings.

Defense attorneys for Espinoza and Canela were skeptical that police would continue investigating.

"What a load of crap," Canela's attorney James N. Rhodes said after being told of Massey's statements.

"If the police had any concrete belief there were other people involved, they would have simply gotten warrants for DNA or for arrests," Rhodes said.

Rhodes and Espinoza's attorney, Nicholas Panteleakis, maintained that their clients were wrongly convicted.

Canela "has not said a word to me that would indicate he knows anything about this crime," Rhodes said. The family is "still scared of whoever really killed the kids," Panteleakis said.

No suspects named

Police have not publicly named anyone else as a suspect.

But, during the trial for Espinoza and Canela that ended last summer in a hung jury and during this summer's trial, prosecutors have called into question specific people.

Victor Espinoza Perez is believed to be the patriarch of the family. He is the brother of Policarpio Espinoza and the father of Adan Canela. He also was the uncle of two of the slain children.

It is Perez's name on apartment leases and mortgages, cell phones and vehicle papers, and he organized the family business, lunch trucks that traveled to local construction sites.

His wife, Guadalupe Juarez Hernandez, exchanged numerous cell phone calls with Espinoza on the day of the killings.

Prosecutors said Hernandez was getting updates from the crime scene and perhaps was giving the killers instructions.

Perez and Hernandez were arrested Aug. 16, 2004, during a raid of their Baltimore County home and were charged with being in the United States illegally.

Both spent 19 days in jail on the Eastern Shore before posting $10,000 bonds.

A half-brother of Adan Canela also was arrested in the raid. An immigration judge has ordered the deportation of all three.

Authorities said those immigration arrests were made, in part, in the hope that other family members would feel freer to talk about the children's deaths.

But the family -- even the parents of the slain children -- has remained unhelpful throughout, police said.

Panteleakis, who has regular contact with Perez and other relatives, said police have "put the family through hell" and that it is understandable that the relatives don't want to cooperate with authorities.

"They hate the police and don't trust them," Panteleakis said.

Panteleakis said Perez was not surprised police were investigating his family. But Perez, through Panteleakis, declined to be interviewed.

Mother leaves town

Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, Alexis' mother, seems to have distanced herself from the rest of the family by moving to New York.

She hugged and thanked prosecutors and police after Espinoza and Canela were convicted.

Detective Bradley said her recent behavior seems "promising." But several issues could complicate any further investigation.

Aside from the communication gaps between the family and police, many relatives are scheduled to be deported as soon as October, Panteleakis and Rhodes said.

Their return to Mexico would, at the least, put up more obstacles for the Baltimore Police Department.

And when Espinoza and Canela are sentenced next month, they could receive multiple prison terms of life without parole.

Defense attorneys said their clients are likely to receive the maximum sentence and therefore have no incentive to talk to police.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.