Three children who were nearly beheaded in an apartment here last May were slain because of a "family secret" that their surviving relatives refuse even now to divulge, prosecutors said during closing arguments in a murder trial Monday.
Although they acknowledged they could not explain why the children -- ages 8, 9 and 10 -- were killed, the prosecutors said they have no doubt about who committed the crimes: two members of the victims' extended family, Adan Espinoza Canela, 18, and his uncle, Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 23.
Assistant State's Attorney Sharon R. Holback said that "something was terribly, terribly wrong" in the family of Mexican immigrants who operated food trucks in the region. She said that, for reasons that are not clear, family members remain too scared to reveal what they must know about the killings.
Jurors, who began deliberations Monday, heard evidence over five weeks in Baltimore Circuit Court. The trial featured defense allegations that police planted evidence and the suggestion by attorneys for Espinoza Canela that their client's father might have been involved in the killings. The prosecution, for its part, questioned the victims' parents aggressively and contended that they and others were guarding a secret that might explain the killings.
The victims were Ricardo Espinoza, 9, his sister Lucero Espinoza, 8, and Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10, a relative. The slayings were so gruesome that they stunned a city hardened by one of the highest homicide rates in the country.
The prosecutors said blood and DNA evidence found on pants, gloves and a shoe linked the defendants to the slayings. In addition, they said, Espinoza Perez told police he was at the apartment, though not inside, about the time investigators believe the children were killed.
"Follow the children's blood," prosecutor Tony Garcia said Monday. "Let them testify. Let them be heard today."
Timothy Dixon, an attorney for Espinoza Perez, argued that police, under tremendous pressure to solve the crime, used "contrived" evidence that "just doesn't add up." Dixon said that blood and articles of clothing were not found where they would have been expected under the state's version of events.
"It's manufactured," he said of the case against his client. "They made it up. They didn't just frame him, they matted the frame."
Prosecutors have maintained that the defendants conspired with others who have not been indicted. James Rhodes, an attorney for Espinoza Canela, dismissively said the state's case "rested on quite a few members of the family" being involved in the killings.
"Everyone was included in their conspiracy," Rhodes said. "They're telling you the family was in on it."
During the trial, the mother of Lucero and Ricardo testified that, in a parking lot far from her home, she had a premonition that her children were in danger on the day they were killed. Noemi "Mimi" Espinoza Quezada said she was praying to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, at the time of the slayings. Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, the mother of Alexis, was similarly anxious, she said.
"I believe as a mother that we already had a sense that something was going to happen to us, a sense that something was already happening," Noemi Quezada testified.
Holback recalled that testimony Monday, saying that there was "some secret buried" in the family. "They won't tell us, either because they don't want to or are afraid of what will happen if they do," Holback said.
She added: "All they could do was sit in the car and pray at 4 o'clock on the day their children were to be slaughtered."
The jury was scheduled to resume deliberations Tuesday. If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced to life in prison.