For the first time in three trials in the 2004 slashing deaths of three children in Northwest Baltimore, jurors on Monday heard a nine-year-old statement by one of the suspects describing his nephew emerging shirtless from a rear window of the apartment in which the victims were killed.
The tape-recorded statement by Policarpio Espinoza Perez, charged in the killings with his nephew, Adan Espinoza Canela, was played in Baltimore Circuit Court for the first time since the May 2004 killings of three young relatives because he is now being tried separately.
In the first two trials — the first ended in a mistrial and the second was overturned on appeal — Espinoza Perez and Espinoza Canela were tried together.
But now, with the two men being tried separately, Espinoza Perez's attorney submitted a statement his client gave to police the day after the killings that puts Espinoza Canela in the home about the time the children's throats were slashed.
It was never played in court before because it would have infringed on Espinoza Canela's constitutional right to confront an accuser. Such a confrontation is not possible when the accuser is a co-defendant.
The statement could have been played in previous trials if any mention of Espinoza Canela had been removed. But Espinoza Perez's attorney said it wouldn't have made any sense.
"I've always wanted this to come out," attorney Nicholas Panteleakis said. "Now we finally get the trial with the evidence that protects my client's rights, not the co-defendant's."
The bodies of Lucero Espinoza, 8, her brother, Ricardo Espinoza, 9, and their cousin, Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10, were found May 27, 2004, at their apartment in the 7000 block of Park Heights Ave.
Charged in the killings were Espinoza Perez, an uncle of two of the victims, and Espinoza Canela, their cousin, although no clear motive has ever emerged.
Prosecutors and defense seem to be intimating that romantic jealousy within or around the large, extended family could be at the root of the killings.
Espinoza Perez and Espinoza Canela were arrested based on blood evidence found on clothing and witnesses' accounts that placed them near the crime scene before the killings.
On Monday, jurors heard the tape recording of the account Espinoza Perez gave to a Baltimore homicide detective and a Spanish-speaking officer acting as an interpreter.
About 4:20 p.m. on May 27, Espinoza Perez said in the recording, he and Espinoza Canela drove to the apartment where the children and Canela's father lived. Espinoza Perez said he stayed in the truck while Canela went inside. He said Canela wanted to talk to his father about something, and Espinoza Perez figured they needed to be alone.
"The kids opened the door for him," he said, though it wasn't clear if Espinoza Perez had seen them open the door. He said Espinoza Canela was inside for about 12 minutes.
Espinoza Perez said he then watched Canela crawl, now shirtless, out of a rear window of the apartment. Espinoza Perez said Canela told him to move the car to a nearby school parking lot and wait for him there.
"Go around and wait for me," Espinoza Perez said his nephew told him. Espinoza Perez said Espinoza Canela didn't explain why.
Espinoza Perez said he complied. When his nephew arrived, he said, he asked what he was doing inside the apartment and why he had crawled out the back.
"He was playing with the kids" is what he told police Espinoza Canela had told him.
When the detective asked Espinoza Perez why Espinoza Canela told him to wait in the school lot, he answered, "I have no idea." He said he thought his nephew was acting "kind of weird."
The rest of the trip, he said, they just talked about music.
They then drove to a store on Broadway, he said, and walked around for a bit before Espinoza Canela bought a shirt.
Espinoza Perez said he didn't tell family members that he and Espinoza Canela had been at the apartment just before the killings because he was "scared."
Darryl Massey, the former homicide detective sergeant who interviewed Espinoza Perez, testified Monday that he tried to confirm the shopping part of the story but couldn't.
But Panteleakis said the story fits other pieces of evidence: Blood spots were found outside the rear window, and suspected blood was also found on a chain-link fence pole nearby. The alleged murder weapon was found outside a fence in the rear.
"Whether [jurors] believe this version, it's up to them," Panteleakis said. "But it fits the evidence perfectly."
Espinoza Canela's lawyer, Brian J. Murphy, declined to comment. His client will face a trial after Espinoza Perez's concludes.