- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2006

BALTIMORE — The mother of one of three young children who were nearly beheaded in an apartment in May 2004 took the witness stand yesterday in the retrial of two relatives accused in the slayings.

Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada — the mother of Alexis Espejo Quezada — testified that she sensed something was wrong as she rode home with relatives from work on May 27, 2004, the day her son was killed.

Miss Espejo told prosecutors that she found his body in the bedroom of the apartment they shared in Northwest Baltimore.

“It’s something I’ll never forget,” she testified in Spanish yesterday. “It’s a wound that’ll never close.”

Adan Canela, 19, and Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 24, are accused of killing Alexis, 10, and his cousin Ricardo Solis Quezada, 9, and his sister Lucero Solis Quezada, 8. Mr. Canela and Mr. Perez are illegal aliens from Mexico.

Prosecutors argue that marks left on the bodies show that Ricardo was strangled with a cord and Alexis was strangled with bare hands before both were beaten with a children’s baseball bat and their heads nearly cut off with a 20-inch boning knife. Lucero also was beaten on the back of the head before her throat was slashed.

Assistant State’s Attorney Sharon R. Holback said defensive cuts show the children fought for their lives.

Mr. Canela and Mr. Perez are the victims’ cousin and uncle, respectively. Each man faces life in prison if convicted.

The prosecution conceded the motive for the killings is “murky,” but it said evidence against the defendants, including DNA collected at the crime scene, is strong.

Defense attorney James Rhodes had suggested that the children may have been killed for lack of payment by family members for being smuggled into the U.S. The family is from Tenenexpan, a small town in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The children were born in Mexico and came to the U.S. with their parents.

Nicholas Panteleakis, who is representing Mr. Perez, has said the lack of motive shows prosecutors don’t know what happened. Defense attorneys also contend that frequent contact between family members could explain the DNA found at the scene.

Miss Espejo spent most of yesterday answering questions about disputes with the defendants and other relatives.

She described Ricardo as an outgoing child and Lucero as more timid but “very sweet.” She described her son — who had turned 10 three days before his slaying — as “very mature.”

Miss Espejo said she and Mimi Quezada, who is the mother of Lucero and Ricardo, began to feel “nervous” as they rode home after picking up Miss Espejo’s daughter from the baby sitter.

“I felt something, like something was pressing me; I felt nervous,” she said, adding that she began to smoke to calm her nerves and that her aunt began to pray during the trip. “I felt some kind of anguish. I don’t know why I felt like that.”

She said Mr. Canela and his father, Victor Espinoza Perez, had shown romantic interest in her weeks before the slayings, but that she rebuffed their advances, which prosecutors say possibly made the men angry and Victor Espinoza’s wife jealous.

She also testified that Miss Quezada had a dispute with a male co-worker who moved out of the apartment they shared weeks before the killings.

Prosecutors asked Miss Espejo whether any males besides Ricardo and Alexis had an opportunity to touch the sheets on her bed since she last washed them, alluding to DNA evidence they plan to present later in the trial.

“No,” Miss Espejo replied.

Prosecutors also questioned why she would not look at the defendants when asked to point to them.

“I can’t express what I feel when I look at them,” she said when pressed. “I can’t find the words.”

Neither of the two mothers thinks that Mr. Canela and Mr. Perez are guilty. Miss Espejo appeared reluctant to answer prosecutors’ questions.

The first trial last year ended in a hung jury after five weeks of testimony.

The trial will resume tomorrow.

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

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