- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2005

BALTIMORE — The jury yesterday began deliberations in the trial of two illegal aliens accused of slaying their three young relatives last year by beating the youngsters with a baseball bat, strangling them and then nearly cutting off their heads.

The jury of eight black women and four black men deliberated for about an hour after spending most of the day listening to prosecutors and defense attorneys present closing arguments in a trial that has lasted five weeks and included more than 300 pieces of evidence and testimony from about two dozen witnesses.

Assistant State’s Attorney Tony Garcia said in closing arguments that the public likely will never know why Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 23, and Adan Canela, 18, butchered and killed their young relatives, but that circumstantial evidence and DNA science points to their guilt.

He said the story behind the slayings appeared to be a closely guarded “family secret.”

“The state can’t tell you why this happened. No motive is good enough for this tragedy,” Mr. Garcia told the jurors. “Don’t sit there and focus on why. Who did it? That’s what we are looking for.”

The defendants face life in prison if convicted of first degree murder and conspiracy in the slayings of Lucero Solis Quezada, 8, her brother Ricardo Solis Quezada Jr., 9, and their cousin Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10.

The children were killed in their Northwest Baltimore apartment May 27, 2004.

Mr. Canela is the cousin of the victims. Mr. Perez is the uncle of the victims and of Mr. Canela.

The defendants, the victims and their immediate families are illegal aliens from Mexico, and defense attorneys have suggested the children were killed by human traffickers to “send a message” after the family failed to pay for their illegal trip to the United States.

Family members, who police have described as reluctant to cooperate with investigators, received special visas to stay in the country for the duration of the trial.

The state’s case hinges upon DNA evidence. The defendants’ DNA was found on two left-hand work gloves stained with the victims’ blood and on two pairs of jeans splattered with the children’s blood.

“The children will testify through their blood,” Mr. Garcia said. “The only way they can now.”

The defense teams’ closing arguments attacked the credibility of the DNA evidence, pointing out that the samples matched many family members since they share nearly identical DNA profiles.

They also attacked the credibility of witnesses, such as two female neighbors of the children who saw the defendants lurking about the garden apartments acting suspicious in the days leading up to the killings. The defense attorneys also impugned the integrity of police and crime-lab investigators.

Timothy M. Dixon, lead attorney for Mr. Perez, said homicide detectives coerced Mr. Perez to make incriminating statements placing him at the crime scene at the time of the slayings.

Mr. Dixon accused police crime-lab technicians of planting DNA evidence.

“They didn’t just frame them, they matted the frame,” he said. “They manufactured evidence, contrived evidence, wrapped in grief, anger and fear. That’s what they gave you. There are problems with this.”

Mr. Dixon and James L. Rhodes, lead attorney for Mr. Canela, repeatedly told jurors that the state’s complicated case “doesn’t make sense.”

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