Ever since the slashing deaths of three children May 27, 2004, in Northwest Baltimore, city residents have tried to make some sense of the brutal crime. But it has not been easy. The victims and the defendants, Policarpio Espinoza and Adan Canela, all are part of a large family of illegal Mexican immigrants who moved to Baltimore. Few of the family members speak English, and the relationships among the relatives are confusing.

When the first trial, last summer, ended in a hung jury, jurors said they were frustrated by the confusion and by unanswered questions, particularly concerning motive.

"It was a big puzzle and a lot of missing pieces," said juror Keith Brown, who said he voted to convict one defendant and acquit the other.

This guide summarizes what The Sun has previously reported about the crime, the people involved and the first trial.

Second trial
Began with jury selection June 22, 2006, in Courtroom 1 of Courthouse East in Baltimore Circuit Court (related story); Spanish-language interpreters will be present throughout.

Judge: Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell
Prosecutors: Assistant State's Attorney Sharon R. Holback (main) and Tony N. Garcia (second chair)
Defendants: Policarpio Espinoza, 24 (Attorney: Nicholas Panteleakis); Adan Canela, 19 (Attorneys: James Rhodes (main) and Adam Sean Cohen (second chair))

Policarpio Espinoza is Adan Canela's uncle and an uncle of the dead children. Adan Canela is a cousin of the dead children.

The charges: Each defendant is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. The conspiracy charges involve "persons unknown," alluding to other possible perpetrators. (related story)

The Baltimore state's attorney's office is not seeking the death penalty for either man. (related story)

Victims:

  • Lucero Espinoza, 8 (female)
  • Ricardo Espinoza, 9 (male)
  • Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10 (male)

    Lucero and Ricardo are siblings. Alexis is a cousin of Lucero and Ricardo.

    Relatives:

    Victor Espinoza Perez
    • Oldest brother of Policarpio and Ricardo Espinoza Perez
    • Husband of Guadalupe
    • Father of Adan
    Guadalupe Juarez Hernandez
    • Wife of Victor
    • Stepmother of Adan
    Ricardo Espinoza Perez
    • Father of Ricardo and Lucero
    • Older brother of Policarpio; younger brother of Victor
    • Husband of Noemi
    Noemi "Mimi" Espinoza Quezada
    • Mother of Ricardo and Lucero
    • Wife of Ricardo Espinoza Perez
    • Aunt of Maria Andrea
    Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada
    • Mother of Alexis
    • Niece of Noemi
    • Possible romantic interest of Victor and Adan
    Notes: Relatives of the dead children have consistently said in interviews and testified in court that they do not believe Policarpio Espinoza and Adan Canela are guilty. (related story No. 1), (related story No. 2)

    First trial
    Began with jury selection July 6, 2005, in Courtroom 1 of Courthouse East in Baltimore Circuit Court; Spanish-language interpreters were present throughout.

    Judge: Circuit Judge Thomas Ward
    Prosecutors:Assistant State's Attorney Sharon R. Holback (main) and Tony N. Garcia (second chair)
    Defendants: Policarpio Espinoza (Attorneys: Timothy M. Dixon (main) and Nicholas Panteleakis (second chair)); Adan Canela (Attorneys: James Rhodes (main) and Adam Sean Cohen (second chair))

    Key DNA evidence: One pair of blue jeans found in the trunk of the Pontiac Grand Am used by the defendants was stained with the children's blood and had inside skin cells consistent with Canela's genetics.

    A second pair of blue jeans was found in the Baltimore County home of the defendants. Those jeans were stained with the children's blood and had inside skin cells consistent with Espinoza's genetics.

    Black loafers worn by Espinoza when he was arrested had on them a tiny droplet of what is most likely blood. The droplet contained DNA consistent with the youngest victim's genetics.

    Two bloody gloves also were found in the Pontiac. Both had DNA consistent with Espinoza and one also had DNA consistent with Canela. (related story)

    The verdict: Trial included five weeks of testimony and about 300 pieces of evidence. Jurors deliberated for 10 days before Judge Ward declared a mistrial Aug. 30 because of a hung jury. Jurors reported being split 6-6 on whether to convict Canela and 8-4 in favor of convicting Espinoza. (related story No. 1), (related story No. 2)

    Basics of the crime
    The three children were killed May 27, 2004, in their bedrooms at the family's apartment in Northwest Baltimore. The Samester apartment complex is on Park Heights Avenue in Fallstaff.

    All three children were beaten and had their throats cut so deeply that they were nearly decapitated. The boys also were strangled. (related story)

    The children were students at Cross Country Elementary School and were killed about 4:20 p.m., just after coming home from school. (related story)

    The children and the murder suspects all are part of a large family of illegal immigrants from a small village in Veracruz, Mexico. (related story)

    The motive
    Motive has remained a mystery. Prosecutors said during closing arguments of the first trial that it was "some secret buried in the family." Defense attorneys have suggested that the children may have been the victims of a hate crime. (related story)

    During the first trial, Canela's attorneys suggested that Canela's father, Victor Espinoza Perez, was responsible for illegally transporting people from Mexico and had a romantic interest in one of the mothers of the slain children. Neither suggestion fully developed into a theory for the crime. Canela also had propositioned Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, the same woman his father was interested in, her testimony revealed. She said she rejected both men. (related story)

    Prosecutors said throughout the trial that Espinoza and Guadalupe Juarez Hernandez exchanged a flurry of phone calls the day of the killings, raising suspicions about her.

    --Julie Bykowicz