- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

BALTIMORE — The jury in the trial of two illegal aliens accused of killing their three young relatives told the judge yesterday that, after six days of deliberations, they were working “wholeheartedly,” but faced a “laborious task” in reaching a unanimous verdict.

In the courtroom yesterday morning, Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas Ward read out loud a note sent from the jury forewoman that conveyed the panel’s dedication to the deliberative process.

“Please note that each juror is contributing wholeheartedly in the deliberative process with much effort,” the note read.

The note seemed to respond to Judge Ward’s admonishment Monday to the jurors to give their full attention to the deliberations in the trial of Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 23, and Adan Canela, 18.

Judge Ward said Monday that some in the jury of seven black women and five black men had been listening to music on headphones and doing other tasks rather than participating in deliberations.

Mr. Perez and Mr. Canela face life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder 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 after they were savagely beaten, choked and had their throats slashed to the point of near-decapitation in their Northwest Baltimore apartment May 27, 2004.

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

Yesterday’s note read: “We are continuing to diligently work toward reaching a fair and unanimous verdict. … Due to the abundance of evidence provided, this is a laborious task that we intend to undergo until we have concluded deliberating.”

The jury saw more than 300 pieces of evidence and heard testimony from about two dozen witnesses during the five-week trial.

The state’s case hinges on potentially complicated 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.

After reading the note, Judge Ward apologized to the jury for being undiplomatic in his remarks. He said he respected the job they were doing. “I don’t feel any hostility toward you, any of you,” he told the jury.

Prosecutors did not offer a motive for the killings and said the reason for the slayings likely would remain a “family secret.”

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 into 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.

Defense attorneys said their clients were framed by police to quickly close the high-profile case.

They also 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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