Video entered as evidence in trial erased mistakenly


After days of deliberations with no sign of progress, jurors in the Baltimore trial of two men accused of killing three children had to deal with one more frustration yesterday - a piece of evidence they wanted to see, a videotape, was accidentally erased.

Jurors in the trial of Policarpio Espinoza and Adan Canela asked to see television news clips showing the parents and an uncle of the children at the crime scene hours after the children's bodies were discovered May 27, 2004, at a Northwest Baltimore apartment.

The footage showed Victor Espinoza Perez, who is Canela's father and Espinoza's brother, standing in a tank top outside the apartment. Another clip is of the mother and father of two of the slain children embracing.

Espinoza, 23, and Canela, 18, each are charged with three counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the deaths of their young relatives. The jury has been deliberating the case for three days.

Several witnesses testified that the children's parents and other relatives seemed unemotional at the crime scene, and prosecutors have alleged that perhaps the family knows more about the killings than it has let on. The conspiracy charges facing Espinoza and Canela include the allegation that they conspired with each other and "with persons unknown" to commit the crime.

The footage the jury wanted to see shows family members looking distraught.

Circuit Judge Thomas Ward agreed to grant the jury's request - their only one yesterday - so a court clerk cued up the news clips in a video player and summoned the jury into the courtroom.

Ward, following procedures, clicked on the court's recording device to make a record of his interaction with the jury. But when he began recording the court proceeding, it somehow taped over some of the news clips. It was unclear whether the mishap was caused by a machine malfunction or simple human error.

"Folks, we've got a problem," Ward told the jurors. "We have, in effect, ruined [the tape.] I can't show it to you because it's gone."

Defense attorneys, who had entered the tape as evidence, said they'd search for a copy, but none had been located by yesterday afternoon.

Ward did have a bit of good news for the jury, though: He canceled court today. The jury has a three-day weekend before resuming deliberations Monday.

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