Relatives Convicted of Murdering 3 Children

By Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 9, 2006

BALTIMORE, Aug. 8 -- Two residents accused of killing three of their young relatives in one of the city's grisliest and most puzzling crimes in recent memory were convicted Tuesday of murder.

A jury found Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 24, and his nephew Adan Espinoza Canela, 19, guilty of killing the children -- ages 8, 9, and 10 -- inside a cramped northwest Baltimore apartment in May 2004. All three children, members of an extended family of Mexican immigrants, were nearly decapitated.

After the verdicts were returned, Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, the mother of the oldest slain child, hugged and tearfully thanked prosecutors Sharon R. Holback and Tony N. Garcia. The moment was particularly moving, Holback said later, because Espejo Quezada and other family members had been too frightened, for reasons that remain murky to law enforcement officials, to fully cooperate with the prosecution.

"I told her I kept my promise to her, which was that we would do whatever we could to bring her son's killers to justice," Holback said. "I asked her if she remembered, and she said yes."

The trial was the second time prosecutors sought to secure convictions in a crime considered shocking even in a city hardened by one of the highest homicide rates in the country. At trial last summer, another jury heard much of the same evidence but then deadlocked after 10 days, causing a judge to declare a mistrial.

Holback and Garcia did not pinpoint a motive at either trial, and some members of the extended family sided with the defense, saying they did not believe Espinoza Canela and Espinoza Perez were guilty.

Prosecutors contended during each trial that blood and DNA evidence linked the men to the slayings of Ricardo Espinoza, 9, his sister Lucero Espinoza, 8, and Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10, another relative.

During the second trial, prosecutors presented more sophisticated DNA evidence, Holback said. They also presented new evidence of turmoil among the family members in the weeks leading up to the murders, including a domestic dispute that led to an arrest.

"We were able to show a series of family problems that seemed to be escalating and building, culminating in the murders," Holback said.

Espinoza Canela and Espinoza Perez are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 21. Each faces a maximum term of life without parole.

Attorneys for each man said the verdicts would be appealed. Nicholas Panteleakis, an attorney for Espinoza Perez, said: "An innocent man was convicted."

James L. Rhodes, an attorney for Espinoza Canela, said two jurors told him that the panel concluded that the men killed one of the children accidentally and then decided that they had to kill the other two, a theory Rhodes said prosecutors did not offer. "It's a runaway jury theory," Rhodes said.

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