BALTIMORE — The three Mexican children butchered in their apartment last year were killed to “send a message” to family members indebted to smugglers who brought them into the country, a lawyer for one of the two illegal aliens accused of the crime said in court proceedings yesterday.
James L. Rhodes, lawyer for defendant Adan Canela, 18, suggested in his opening statement that the culprit was Mr. Canela’s father, Victor Espinoza Perez, who the family owed at least $2,500 for the illegal trip to America.
Mr. Rhodes also suggested an alternative motive — that Mr. Canela’s stepmother, Guadalupe Perez, ordered her husband to “do something about the family” as retribution for his love affair with the mother of one of the victims.
Timothy M. Dixon, a lawyer for co-defendant Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 23, said in his opening statement that the real killer could be a neighbor who disliked the children or a family friend who recently argued with the mother of two of the victims.
Killed in May 2004 were Lucero Solis Quezada, 8, her brother, Ricardo Solis Quezada Jr., 9, and their 10-year-old male cousin, Alexis Espejo Quezada.
Police said the children were beaten with a baseball bat and nearly decapitated with a boning knife after they returned from school to a Northwest Baltimore apartment.
Policarpio Espinoza Perez is the uncle of Mr. Canela and the victims. Mr. Canela is the victims’ cousin.
The defendants, the victims and their immediate families were illegal Mexican aliens at the time of the killings. The victims’ and the defendants’ parents have since received special visas for the duration of the trial, which could last a month.
The victims’ parents have steadfastly defended the family members accused of the murders.
Ricardo Espinoza Perez, father of victims Lucero and Ricardo Jr., was among the first witnesses the prosecution called to testify.
Under cross examination, he recalled the day he found the children’s bloody bodies and also how he never suspected his brother or nephew.
“Not of the family, no,” he said.
His brother, Victor Espinoza Perez, was also called as a prosecution witness shortly before court adjourned for the day. His testimony will resume Monday morning.
Assistant State’s Attorney Sharon Holback did not present a motive yesterday in her opening statement.
Though she did not explain the murders, Miss Holback said blood and DNA evidence on a pair of jeans and a pair of shoes in the defendants’ possession would identify them as the “cold-blooded killers.”
“Follow the children’s blood,” she told the jury. “It will lead you to the killers.”
Mr. Dixon chided prosecutors for not explaining why the defendants might have committed the killings. “You are going to hear everything except a motive,” he said.
He also told the jury that his client was railroaded by Baltimore’s police and the state’s attorney’s office because they were being criticized for failing to solve other homicides when these slayings brought them national attention.
“Those children lost their lives, but something else happened — politics and agenda,” Mr. Dixon said. “They had to arrest someone quickly.”