- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2005

BALTIMORE — A hung jury forced Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas Ward to declare a mistrial yesterday for two illegal aliens charged in the brutal beating of three young relatives whose throats were slashed to the point of near decapitation.

Prosecutors immediately vowed to retry the case.

Judge Ward said the jury of seven black women and five black men had been deadlocked since the start of 10 days of deliberation in the case against Adan Canela, 18, and Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 23.

“They had a tough case,” he said.

Juror Keith Brown said eight members of the jury thought Mr. Perez was guilty, with four holding out for his acquittal. They were deadlocked 6-6 on Mr. Canela, he said.

Mr. Brown said he thought Mr. Perez was guilty, but said he couldn’t convict Mr. Canela because he didn’t see proof that Mr. Canela had worn a pair of bloody jeans police had found.

Juror Mike Johnson said he was not convinced that police arrested the right people.

“I think [the crime] was a tragedy, I think that was a travesty, I think that was hideous, I think that was the worst thing you could ever do to anyone,” he said. “But that still can’t make someone believe … you just pin it on somebody.”

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

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

They relied on circumstantialevidence and DNA evidence to link the defendants to the crime. Jurors said DNA evidence was a key sticking point during deliberations.

The defense teams, however, portrayed the state’s case as shoddy police work and a rush to prosecute the wrong men. They also suggested that 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.

Mr. Brown said jurors didn’t appear to make any conclusions about the smuggling theory.

“Well, we believe that there was a larger picture,” he said.

Timothy M. Dixon, the lead attorney for Mr. Perez, accused police of attempting to “frame” his client to satisfy political pressure for a speedy resolution to the high-profile killings.

Yesterday, he said the jurors who held out for a not-guilty verdict acted in good conscience, as he had trusted they would do.

“And if the state chooses to retry, we’ll trust the jurors again,” he said. “This is the kind of case that, when you take the emotions out of it, there just isn’t a lot of evidence there.”

Mr. Canela and Mr. Perez remained jailed pending an administrative hearing before Judge Ward today to schedule a new trial.

Assistant State’s Attorney Tony Garcia said the state will continue to seek justice for victims Lucero Solis Quezada, 8; her brother, Ricardo Solis Quezada Jr., 9; and their cousin, Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10.

The children were beaten with an aluminum baseball bat, choked and had their throats slashed with a boning knife May 27, 2004 in their Northwest Baltimore apartment.

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

Their relatives, who are all illegal aliens from Mexico and were granted special visas for the duration of the trial, have steadfastly defended the two men.

Police and prosecutors described family members as uncooperative.

James L. Rhodes, the lead attorney for Mr. Canela, said he thought the jurors who held out for a guilty verdict likely were prejudiced against the defendants because of their sex or ethnicity.

“Some of the jurors just did not bother with the court’s instructions,” he said.

He said he welcomed a second trial. “We plan to crush the state next time we are here on this,” he said.

Lead prosecutor Sharon Holback declined to respond to Mr. Rhodes’ comments.

“We stand by our indictment. We stand by our evidence,” she said.

Still, some city residents were thunderstruck that the jury could not render a verdict when the defendants’ DNA was found on two work gloves stained with the victims’ blood and on two pairs of jeans splattered with the children’s blood.

“That’s messed up,” said James M. Omanwa, 27, a Baltimore parking lot manager.

Mr. Omanwa, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Kenya, said the gruesome crime in which the suspects, the victims and their families were all illegal aliens from Mexico has impugned the entire immigrant community.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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