Reporting Mike Hellgren
BALTIMORE (WJZ)—A split verdict in the trial for a man accused of slashing his young relatives’ throats. Convicted of conspiracy but cleared of murder charges, Policarpio Espinoza Perez could still spend his life behind bars.
Mike Hellgren has more on the jury’s decision.
Jurors did not believe Espinoza Perez killed his young relatives but that he knew of the brutal plot.
Pictures of the three victims’ smiling faces belie their brutal deaths. Eight-year-old Lucera Espinoza, her 9-year-old brother Ricardo, and their 10-year-old cousin Alexis Quezada were all nearly decapitated with a kitchen knife. The boys were beaten with a bat.
Memories of the murdered children haunt their father, who believes justice was not served almost nine years since that horrifying day he discovered their bodies.
“I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I don’t understand nothing,” said Ricardo Espinoza, victims’ father.
The case proved difficult to jurors, who could not come to agreement on first-degree murder charges but found Espinoza Perez not guilty of second-degree murder and guilty of three counts of conspiracy to commit murder, which carry a life prison sentence.
“We appreciate the jury’s hard work, and we are gratified by the outcome,” said State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein.
The defense plans to appeal.
“They don’t believe he was in the apartment. They don’t believe he used a knife in any way. What conspiracy means is they believe he took part in, knew of and was part of what happened. Whether that means they thought he was acting as a lookout, whether they thought he was part of the plan, he’s crushed. He’s never once to me said anything other than ‘I’m innocent in this case. I’m innocent of these charges,’” said Nick Panteleakis, defense attorney. “He’s destroyed. He told me that after this he might just be giving up. Those were his words.”
This is the third trial in Baltimore’s most drawn out cases. The first jury was hung. A conviction in his second trial was overturned.
For the victims’ family, the case doesn’t bring closure, just more heartbreak.
The father of two of the children says jurors got it wrong and the real killer is still at large.
“I miss my life. I miss my family and everything,” said Ricardo Espinoza, victims’ father.
Though this is Espinoza Perez’s third trial, it’s the first without his co-defendant, another relative, Adan Canela.
Canela’s trial will start next week on April 1.
Espinoza Perez’s recorded statement that he was at the scene of the crime but Canela was the person who went inside the apartment was likely key for jurors.
“With the evidence that was put before them, I really think emotion did have a lot to do with the verdict that we got here today,” Panteleakis said.
The State’s Attorney declined to answer any questions, including if he had any plans to retry Espinoza Perez on the first-degree murder charge.
Prosecutors never developed a clear motive in the case, hinting at romantic jealousy among family members. In closing arguments, prosecutors said that it doesn’t matter why the children were killed only that the person who did it is punished.
Sentencing for Espinoza Perez is scheduled for April 29.