- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2005

BALTIMORE — A neighbor of the three children killed in their apartment last year testified yesterday that the father of two of the victims acted “nonchalant” after finding their butchered bodies.

Matthew Scott, a neighbor called to the scene immediately after the bodies were found, said Ricardo Espinoza Perez was “very calm” and “nonchalant” after finding the severely beaten and nearly decapitated bodies of his daughter Lucero Solis Quezada, 8, son Ricardo Solis Quezada Jr., 9, and nephew Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10.

The children were beaten with an aluminum baseball bat and their throats slashed with a boning knife in their Northwest Baltimore apartment in May 2004 shortly after they apparently came home alone from school.

Yesterday’s testimony about the father, who is not charged in the crime but is related to the two men on trial, adds to the mystery surrounding the brutal slayings in which the victims’ families have not cooperated with the police or the prosecutors.

Ricardo Perez’s brother Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 23, and his nephew Adan Canela, 18, are charged with first-degree murder in the slayings. They face life in prison if convicted.

The defendants, the victims and their immediate families are illegal aliens from Mexico. Family members have received special visas for the trial, which could last into mid-August.

The victims’ families have defended their kin accused of the killings, and police have testified that family members had been “reluctant” to cooperate with investigators. The family members say they do not speak English, which apparently hampered the homicide investigation because suspects and witnesses had to be questioned through an interpreter. The language barrier has slowed the trial as well when family members had to testify through court interpreters.

However, a maintenance worker at the garden apartments where the children lived and died said yesterday that Ricardo Perez regularly spoke to him in English.

The maintenance worker, Robert Smith, also testified that the children carefully guarded access to the apartment when they were home alone.

“The kids wouldn’t let anyone in if their parents weren’t home,” he said, adding that they wouldn’t let him in for maintenance jobs and they knew him well.

Assistant State’s Attorney Sharon Holback said in opening statements that Policarpio Perez and Mr. Canela gained access to the apartment because they were family and the children let them in.

Prosecutors have not offered a motive in the slayings but say DNA evidence, including the children’s blood found on the defendants’ pants and shoes, will prove that the accused are the “cold-blooded killers.”

However, testimony Tuesday by Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, the mother of the slain boy Alexis, hinted at a possible motive. She said she rebuffed romantic overtures from Mr. Canela a few months before the murders. The mother, characterized by Mrs. Holback as a hostile witness, said she didn’t think Mr. Canela and Policarpio Perez were the killers.

The defense teams have offered several alternative explanations for the crime, including that Mr. Canela’s father, Victor Espinoza Perez, smuggled the family into the country and later had the children killed to “send a message” when he wasn’t paid for the illegal trip.

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