A judge denied bail Tuesday to the two Mexican immigrants charged with the brutal slaying of three children, even as a defense attorney questioned whether police accurately translated a statement one suspect gave police last week.
District Court Judge Nancy B. Shuger ordered that Adan Espinoza Canela, 17, and Policarpio Espinoza, 22, be held without bail because she said the two defendants, who entered the United States illegally, posed a flight risk.
An attorney for Espinoza Canela said Baltimore police might have botched the translation of a statement Espinoza gave police in Spanish, a statement that prosecutors are using to build their case against the two men.
"We have a number of questions on the truth of what was said and whether the translation was accurate," attorney James Rhodes said before the hearing. "It comes down to dialect."
Espinoza Canela and Espinoza were charged Friday with first-degree murder after three members of their extended family -- a brother and sister and the siblings' cousin, all ages 8 to 10, all Mexican immigrants -- were found slain. One of the children had been beheaded, and the other two had been partially decapitated.
A different District Court judge issued a gag order in Espinoza's case Tuesday to prevent leaks to the media.
According to court documents, Espinoza told police he waited in the car while Espinoza Canela entered the apartment Thursday between 4:20 and 5 p.m. -- just after the children arrived home from school and minutes before the bodies were discovered by their parents. Espinoza said he saw Espinoza Canela leave the apartment through a rear window without his shirt a short time later.
Police sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that they do not believe that one person could have committed such a horrific crime. Detectives said they believe that Espinoza Canela -- whom a veteran investigator has told colleagues is "one of the coldest men" he has ever interrogated -- was leading the pair.
Police recovered a 10-inch butcher knife just outside the apartment's rear window and later discovered a shirt and towel stained with blood in the suspects' Baltimore County home, according to court documents. Detectives are trying to track down other physical evidence, including another bloodied shirt, that might have been removed from the crime scene, sources said.
Meanwhile, Rhodes, the defense attorney, said he wants to obtain a recording of Espinoza's statement so he can follow up on information he received that might call into question the veracity of the translation.
Matt Jablow, a Baltimore police spokesman, said that Espinoza's statement was translated by a Spanish-speaking officer and that police "have no reason to believe there were any errors" in it.
Jablow said police remain stumped over the motivation for the crime. Detectives are exploring several possibilities but "are not leaning one way or another," he said.
Rhodes and Anne-Marie Gering, a public defender representing Espinoza, said Tuesday that their clients were not capable of killing their relatives.
Gering, who requested bail of $100,000 for her client, told the court that Espinoza "baby-sat for these children, cared for them and fed them."
Espinoza was the uncle of two of the children, and Espinoza Canela was their cousin, according to family members.
Espinoza, who could face the death penalty if convicted, showed little emotion and gave simple yes and no answers during the proceeding, which was conducted via closed-circuit television.
According to court officials, he came to Baltimore two years ago and worked at a concrete company. He has no arrest record in Maryland, officials said.
"He came here as most of his family did, for a better life," Gering said. "He has the support of his entire family, and they don't believe he could have committed this crime."
Gering said the parents of the slain children also believe that police have the wrong suspects. The parents could not be located Tuesday, but other relatives have said they do not believe the suspects are guilty.
During Espinoza Canela's hearing, the teenager appeared nervous and frightened, and he grimaced when the judge told him he faces life in prison if convicted. Under Maryland law, he cannot receive the death penalty because he was younger than 18 when the crime occurred.
Court officials testified that Espinoza Canela moved to Baltimore at least two years ago. He does not have an adult or juvenile record in Maryland or Mexico, his attorney said.
Rhodes said his client was unemployed because he recently stopped working for his father's food-service business.