BALTIMORE — A jury of eight black women and four black men was seated yesterday evening in the trial of two illegal Mexican aliens accused of killing three children by beheading one and nearly decapitating the others.
The swearing in of the panel ended two days of jury selection complicated by pretrial publicity about the brutal slayings of Ricardo Solis Quezada Jr. and his sister, Lucero Solis Quezada, both 9, and their 10-year-old male cousin Alexis Espejo Quezada, all of whom are related to the two accused men.
The children were found butchered in their Park Heights, Baltimore apartment in late May, after they apparently returned home alone from school. The children’s cousin, Adan Canela, 18, and their uncle, Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 23, were arrested shortly afterward and face life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.
Baltimore prosecutors rarely seek the death sentence and have said they asked for a life sentence this time because Mr. Canela and Mr. Perez are so young.
The defendants, the victims and their immediate families are from the town of Tenenexpan in the Mexican state of Veracruz. They were in the country illegally when the crime occurred, though the victims’ parents have since received special visas for the duration of the trial, which could last a month.
During jury selection, the panel said they harbored no prejudice against Hispanics or illegal aliens.
However, exposure to publicity about the killings disqualified 261 of 375 potential jurors, before the defense and prosecution teams selected the final jury panel.
The teams also agreed to a panel of alternative jurors consisting of five black women and one white woman.
Wary of press coverage continuing to influence the jurors, who will not be sequestered, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Thomas Ward issued a gag order Wednesday night barring attorneys in the trial from commenting on the case.
Yesterday, the judge admonished the jurors not to discuss the case or read newspapers or watch TV broadcasts about the trial.
“This is your case, not the community’s case, not the press’s case,” he said. “Be good Americans and do what I tell you. I know you can.”
The killings attracted widespread press coverage last year and have continued to be a lightning rod in the country’s debate on immigration policy.
La Voz de Aztlan, an Internet news service catering to Mexicans living in the United States, has called the killings anti-Mexican “hate crimes” and suggested that the authorities railroaded Mr. Canela and Mr. Perez because of their ethnicity.
U.S. Border Control, a nonprofit group dedicated to ending illegal immigration, has pointed to the killings as an example of crime associated with some illegal aliens.
The prosecutors have not given a motive in the killings.
Assistant State’s Attorney Sharon Holback declined to say whether the prosecution would offer a motive in its opening argument today.
The state’s case is expected to rely heavily on DNA evidence. Police reportedly found a glove and pants stained with both the defendants’ and the victims’ blood. Defense attorneys have called the DNA evidence “weak.” They also are expected to offer alternative suspects and motives in their opening argument.