As the two suspects in the gruesome murder of three Mexican children pleaded not guilty yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court, parents of the victims deplored the charges and insisted police have gone after the wrong men.
"I feel so terrible about what is happening," Noemi Quezada said after the arraignment, clutching her husband's arm and shielding her weep-weary eyes with dark sunglasses.
Her children, Ricardo Solis Quezada Jr. and Lucero Solis Quezada, both 9, were found bludgeoned in their Fallstaff apartment May 27 along with their 10-year-old male cousin Alexis Espejo Quezada. One child was beheaded and the others were partially decapitated.
"The police are not looking for the real killers," she said in Spanish, raising her voice in anger. "These poor men are innocent. The real ones are out there but the police are not looking for them."
Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 22, previously referred to by authorities by only the last name Espinoza, and Adan Espinoza Canela, 17, were arrested the day after the killings. The men each are charged with three counts of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, using a deadly weapon and other offenses.
Attorneys clarified yesterday that the complete name of the elder suspect is Policarpio Espinoza Perez and amended the judicial record.
The attorneys for the defendants asked for a jury trial and Circuit Judge John M. Glynn set a date of Dec. 13.
The murders of the three young children - and the subsequent arrests of two relatives - stunned Baltimore. In June, distraught friends, classmates, city officials and strangers alike flooded a public memorial service for the children and held a candlelight vigil in the rain outside the apartment where they were killed.
Perez is Canela's uncle. Perez was also the dead children's uncle and Canela was their cousin. The family came to Baltimore from Mexico in waves, with Canela arriving as recently as February, according to relatives. Nearly all of the family members are undocumented immigrants.
The mothers of the dead children, Noemi Quezada, and her niece Andrea Espejo Quezada are from the small village of Tenenexpan, on Mexico's eastern coast.
The women operated a mobile taco stand in Baltimore. They returned to the town in the Mexican state of Veracruz to bury their children. But U.S. immigration officials allowed them to come back to Baltimore because local prosecutors want them as witnesses.
Yet the family's reactions yesterday seemed anything but supportive of the state's case.
"They are making the innocents pay for this," said Noemi Quezada. "I am very indignant about this. It's not these poor kids who did this."
The state's attorney's office would not comment about the family's outrage, saying that by law its officials may not disclose details of an open case.
Nicole Monroe, a Baltimore police spokeswoman, declined to comment. The police have not disclosed a motive in the killing, and none was mentioned yesterday in court.
Sources familiar with the investigation told The Sun in July that a bloody glove found in Perez's trunk linked the men to the crime. Tests of the glove showed Perez's blood and blood of one of the children.
That evidence seemed to contradict earlier accounts given to police by Perez, who told investigators that he waited in a car while Canela was inside the apartment at the apparent time of the killings, according to court documents.
Timothy Dixon, Perez's attorney, downplayed that evidence yesterday, saying he has yet to see it.
"I'd certainly like to see that evidence, if it exists," he said.
Noemi Quezada's emotional plea for justice was echoed by other family members and a friend who attended the court proceedings.
For the 35 minutes that it took court officials to read the lengthy list of charges, which were translated into Spanish for the benefit of the non-English-speaking suspects, the family sat stiffly, arms crossed, some of them crying and shaking their heads at times.
Meanwhile, the suspects stared forward with nearly blank expressions. The men did not speak when Glynn asked how they pleaded, allowing their attorneys to say "not guilty" on their behalf.
Perez and Canela only nodded when Glynn asked whether they understood the maximum penalty for the charges - death, if they are found guilty.
Before the proceedings, the men sat uncomfortably in chairs, hands cuffed and ankle chains hanging around their jeans. Perez, wearing a blue-and-pink striped polo shirt, with his hair tied in a ponytail, bounced his knee up and down as he waited. Canela wore a white T-shirt and black jeans and sat almost completely still.
On a handful of occasions, they whispered to each other. They also periodically locked eyes with family members, but only for a few seconds.
Both men have been held in jail without bail since their arrests.
"We have these people in jail for no reason," said Jorge Zapata, who identified himself as a family friend and attended the arraignment. "This is bad. These are nice people. All they do is come here to this country to work. Their kids go to school. And never, once, did they have one single problem here."
After the arraignment, the family of the victims spoke to their attorneys, who encouraged them to stay optimistic.
"I don't think in all honesty that police know who did it," said James Rhodes, Canela's attorney.
The family also met with prosecutors. Afterward, Noemi Quezada said what was discussed was "personal."
"They are stunned that their relatives are being charged with this crime," said Dixon. "First they end up suffering the death of their children. They come here only to have a better life, and now they have to watch their family members stand trial for killing their children."