The mother of two children who had their throats slashed nine years ago took the stand Thursday in the murder trial of Policarpio Espinoza Perez and described how her husband's elder brother took a romantic interest in her niece.
Prosecutors have argued that friction among members of her extended family ultimately led to the 2004 murders of her children and one other young boy.
During this week's trial — the third for Espinoza Perez — witnesses have faced questions from both sides about romantic tensions surrounding Noemi "Mimi" Quezada's niece. Prosecutors have not laid out how they believe Policarpio Espinoza Perez was connected.
"I want to know the truth for the sake of my children," Quezada, whose husband is Espinoza Perez's brother, told the court Thursday through an interpreter.
Quezada said another of her husband's brothers, Victor Espinoza Perez, began coming over to her apartment much more often after her niece, Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, moved in in early in 2004.
"He would stare at her," said Quezada. "When he would come when my niece was there, he would show up very well-bathed with perfume on."
Prosecutors highlighted in opening statements that Espejo Quezada's arrival in the United States, just months before the murders, had caused rifts in the large family, to which she was connected by marriage.
Assistant State's Attorney Cynthia M. Banks said Tuesday that Espejo Quezada had spurned both Victor Espinoza Perez and his son, Adan Canela, who is also accused in the killings.
Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 31, is being tried separately from Canela, 26, for the first time. They have been tried together twice, the first trial resulting in a mistrial and the second leading to convictions that were later overturned.
In the second trial, prosecutors tentatively advanced the theory that Victor Espinoza Perez's wife, Guadalupe Juarez Hernandez, helped arrange the killings because she was angered by his attention to Espejo Quezada.
Noemi Quezada testified Thursday that Hernandez took longer than usual to take the family home from work on the day of the killings, and made an unusual stop at the bank.
Quezada's son, Ricardo Espinoza, 9, and her daughter, Lucero Espinoza, 8, were killed at their apartment with Espejo Quezada's son, Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10.
For much of the ride home, Quezada said, Hernandez was on the phone.
In the previous trials, prosecutors used phone records to suggest that calls were made to Policarpio Espinoza Perez, bolstering the theory that he was connected to the murders.
But Hernandez is now in a Mexican prison, convicted of arranging the 2009 murder of Victor Espinoza Perez, her husband, and is unlikely to be able to testify this time around.
As Noemi Quezada testified about the relationships between Victor Perez and his wife, she was cut off by frequent objections from Nicholas Panteleakis, Policarpio Espinoza Perez's lead attorney.
Quezada's testimony was also hampered by her apparent difficulty understanding questions from Assistant State's Attorney Nicole Lomartire and Judge M. Brooke Murdock.
Both repeatedly tried to ask her to give a sense of how often Victor Espinoza Perez socialized with her family, but she focused on particular events shortly before the killings.
She did say that Victor Espinoza Perez had invited her, her husband, Ricardo Espinoza Perez, and Espejo Quezada and the children to an outing at a lake without his wife, Juarez Hernandez.
She also said that the relationship between Victor Espinoza Perez and Juarez Hernandez deteriorated that spring.
"When my niece came, he was different toward his wife," Noemi Quezada said, and added later that "It was only fights."
Espejo Quezada testified on Tuesday but played down any attention from Victor Perez. She said he caressed her arm once.
Panteleakis, Policarpo Espinoza Perez's lawyer, asked Quezada whether her former husband, Jose Luis Solis, had made threats against the family.
Quezada testified that she immediately mentioned Solis to police when they questioned her after the killings.