- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

1:21 p.m.

BALTIMORE — A Baltimore jury today found two men guilty of the murders of three small Mexican children, whose nearly decapitated bodies were found in a west Baltimore apartment more than two years ago.

Policarpio Espinoza, 24, and Adan Canela, 19, were convicted of slashing the throats of their close relations — Ricardo Espinoza Jr., 9; his sister, Lucero Espinoza, 8; and their male cousin Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10. Policarpio Espinoza is the children’s uncle, and Canela is a cousin.

The jury found the men guilty of first degree murder in the killings of Lucero Espinoza and Alexis Espejo Quezada and second degree murder in the killing of Ricardo Espinoza Jr.

Canela and Espinoza’s first trial in 2005 ended in a hung jury.

The reading of the Canela verdict initially was interrupted when the jury appeared confused about what they had agreed upon. As the forewoman began reading the verdict, several jurors started shaking their heads. After some discussion, the judge sent the jurors back to the jury room to clarify their verdict. They returned after a short interlude, and the verdict was read without further incident.

The bodies of the three children were found in the family’s apartment in March 2004. Police said the boys were strangled and the girl was hit in the head with a baseball bat before their necks were cut within inches of decapitation. The gruesome murders of the three children sickened even hardened detectives in a city that perennially has one of the nation’s highest homicide rates.

Prosecutors were never able to define a clear motive for the crime, and other members of the apparently close-knit clan refused to accept that Espinoza and Canela could have committed such a brutal crime on children they knew well and loved.

The family is from Tenenexpan, a small town in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The children were born in Mexico and emigrated to the United States with their parents.

The case against the two men centered on forensic evidence. Prosecutors said DNA testing proved blood found smeared on the suspects’ clothing belonged to the three slain children. Prosecutors said cell-phone records put the two men in the vicinity of the children’s apartment about the time of the murders.

Prosecutors dealt with their inability to present a motive by suggesting that members of the family knew more about the murders than they let on.

Defense attorneys contended police had botched the collection and testing of the DNA evidence. Canela’s attorney also suggested during closing arguments last year that the children might have been murdered for reasons relating to a smuggling ring.

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