Baltimore prosecutors said Thursday they will retry two illegal immigrants charged with killing three young relatives in a Baltimore apartment in 2004, after their convictions were overturned last month by the state's highest court because of a judge's error.

It will be the third time the city has tried Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 29, and Adan Espinoza Canela, 24, who are accused of slashing the throats of three elementary school students — ages 8, 9 and 10 — making cuts so deep the two boys and a girl were nearly decapitated.

The first trial ended in a hung jury in 2005 because of confusing testimony and too little evidence, jurors said at the time. The second trial resulted in murder convictions and life sentences for both men a year later. But those convictions were overturned in June because the judge failed to share with attorneys five juror notes that reflected concerns the jury had about evidence.

Defense attorneys said they would have altered their court strategy had the contents of the notes been revealed.

A spokesman for Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein said the office would retry the case because "the Court of Appeals decision that was passed down last month focused exclusively on a judge's error, the ruling had nothing to do with evidence." He declined to discuss the case further.

More than seven years have passed since siblings Lucero and Ricardo Espinoza and their cousin, Alexis Espejo Quezada, were beaten and nearly beheaded in their family's Fallstaff home on May 27, 2004. Their uncle (Perez) and cousin (Canela) were charged in their deaths.

One witness has been killed and another implicated in that homicide, while several others have been deported to their home country of Mexico. A lead detective in the case, Irvin Bradley, died this month.

"In the back of my mind, I suppose I knew that [prosecutors] would not just walk away from it," said Adam Sean Cohen, who was one of two lawyers representing Canela.

"There were two trials already, and the last one ended in a conviction for them. I don't know that they could simply just say, 'OK, well, we'll take our ball and go home because the Court of Appeals overturned. But there's so many new issues now that have developed since the incident," Cohen said.

He and co-counsel James L. Rhodes have not decided whether they will represent Canela again, and Cohen said he hasn't talked to his former client in a long time. Perez's public defender, Nicholas Panteleakis, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Under certain evidentiary rules, transcripts or tapes of earlier testimony could be introduced during a new trial, attorneys said, if the trial lawyers were fully able to cross-examine the witnesses while they were on the stand.

But the Court of Appeals ruling, handed down June 17, complicates that possibility because defense attorneys might have asked different questions of the witnesses if they had had access to the notes, which revealed juror concerns and questions about certain testimony and DNA evidence.

Blood found on a pair of gloves in Perez's care and on some blue jeans in their shared apartment linked the items to the crimes through DNA, though defense attorneys contended the association was tenuous because they shared similar family profiles.

It's also possible that the men are innocent, said Baltimore lawyer Brian J. Murphy, who was appointed to represent Canela before the Maryland Court of Appeals and pored over the case files.

"It's a horrible crime. There's no dispute about that from either side of the case," Murphy said. "The question is, did these guys do it? I read every word in the transcript … 3,000 pages, about four "War and Peace" novels, and I have doubts."

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts