- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

BALTIMORE — Two illegal aliens face life in prison after a Baltimore jury yesterday found them guilty in the murders of three young relatives, whose nearly decapitated bodies were found in a West Baltimore apartment in 2004.

Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 24, and Adan Canela, 19, were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the May 27 deaths of Lucero Solis Quezada, 8, and her cousin Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10.

The men also were convicted of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Lucero’s brother, Ricardo Solis Quezada Jr., 9.

Perez and Canela are the children’s uncle and cousin, respectively, from a family of illegal aliens from Mexico.

Prosecutor Sharon R. Holback could not offer a motive for the murders, but said the prosecution thinks that relatives know more about the killings than they have said.

“We believe that the family is very frightened, that something horrible happened in the family. We don’t know precisely what,” Miss Holback said. “What we know for sure is these defendants killed these children in a brutal and horrific manner that shocked the consciences of every single member of our community.”

Defense attorneys said they will appeal.

After the verdicts were read, prosecutors and members of the Baltimore Police Department hugged and high-fived one another as Perez and Canela were taken away in handcuffs.

Prosecutors said Alexis’ mother, Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, hugged them outside the courtroom, despite the tension between the family and prosecutors, and repeatedly thanked them for doing “justice” for her son.

Victor Espinoza Perez, Canela’s father, and Ricardo Espinoza Perez, the father of the slain siblings, declined to comment.

The first trial in the case ended in a hung jury last year after 10 days of deliberations. The latest jury took less than four days to reach a verdict.

Prosecutors did not specify what made this case different from the first, but defense attorneys have speculated that there was fighting among jurors in the first trial.

The family has said they think the men are innocent.

Defense attorneys have suggested that the family might have had some involvement in an illegal alien smuggling ring that killed the children because the family owed it money.

George Zapata, a family friend, said the family feels “terrible.”

“I’m very surprised. I never think it would happen this way,” Mr. Zapata said. “These boys no kill nobody.”

Perez attorney Nicholas Panteleakis said that his client was “in shock” as the verdict was read and that he teared up.

He said that the men were unfairly tried together and that redacted statements prevented the jury from hearing important evidence from Perez.

“I truly believe an innocent man was convicted today,” Mr. Panteleakis said.

There was confusion among the jurors as Canela’s verdict was initially read because they had been confused by the verdict sheet. The jurors retired for 30 minutes to clarify their verdict before returning to read the decision.

After the trial, jurors Greg Hooker, 42, and Christopher Lewis, 38, said DNA evidence and a statement by Perez that placed him at the crime scene within a half-hour of the murders was convincing.

The defense’s lack of witnesses and failure to put Perez and Canela on the stand “spoke volumes,” Mr. Lewis said.

“There was no counterpunch. Not everything in the prosecution’s case weighed in our decision, but the defense didn’t refute it. After four weeks of punch, punch, jab, jab and Hail Marys, you expected something,” Mr. Lewis said.

Mr. Hooker said the lack of motive had no bearing on the case.

“My statement to the jury was we cannot rationalize an irrational act. Whatever the motive was, it would not make any sense to kill three children; there’s no justification in that,” he said.

Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 21.

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

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