A man who has been tried three times in the near-beheading deaths of his three young relatives was sentenced Monday to life in prison with the possibility of parole on conspiracy charges — but he could still face a fourth trial.
Neither the sentencing judge nor Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein would rule out a trial of Policarpio Espinoza Perez for first-degree murder.
“We are going to conduct a thorough evaluation and make a decision about next steps,” Bernstein’s spokesman, Mark Cheshire, said in an email following the sentencing.
A Baltimore City Circuit Court jury last month convicted Espinoza Perez, 31, of three counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the deaths of the children, who were between 8 and 10 years old. The jury, however, cleared him of second-degree murder charges, and Judge M. Brooke Murdock earlier declared a mistrial on a first-degree murder charge.
Espinoza Perez’s attorney, Nicholas P. Panteleakis, said Monday he plans to appeal the conspiracy convictions.
Prior to sentencing, Panteleakis asked Murdock to rule that prosecutors cannot bring first-degree murder charges in the future. The judge declined to issue such a ruling.
At a news conference following the sentencing, Panteleakis said that if prosecutors were to file first-degree murder charges it would amount to double jeopardy.
Criminal defense attorneys who were not involved in the case agreed.
“If they found him not guilty of second-degree murder, prosecutors can’t climb the ladder to first degree,” Warren A. Brown, an attorney at the Law Office of Warren A. Brown P.A. in Baltimore, said Monday. “They should … shut the book on this thing and be done with it.”
As a practical matter, said Andrew Radding, of Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler LLC in Baltimore, it would be “an awful waste of time, effort and money” for prosecutors to bring new charges against Espinoza Perez when they already have a life a sentence, albeit with the possibility of parole.
Byron L. Warnken, an attorney and a longtime professor of criminal law at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said Monday he did not think prosecutors would file charges again, and if they did they “won’t get very far.”
“As a matter of law, it would be legally inconsistent,” Warnken said. “It’s too far uphill for them to succeed, and they have already gotten the best they can get because he has been sentenced to life in prison.”
A jury was unable reach a verdict after the first trial in 2005 of Espinoza Perez and his nephew, Adan Espinoza Canela, who also was accused of the murders. As a result, the judge declared a mistrial.
The two were convicted and sentenced to life in prison after a second trial in 2006. That conviction, however, was overturned when an appellate court held that the judge failed to disclose several jury notes that could have impacted the verdict.
Canela, 26, is slated to go to trial on May 28, according to a court official.
Espinoza Perez and Canela were accused of killing of Lucero Espinoza, 8, her brother Ricardo Espinoza, 9, and their cousin, Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10, in 2004.
Prosecutors could not provide a motive for Espinoza Perez’s involvement in the killings, but emphasized that they were not required under the law to do so. In fact, Assistant State’s Attorney Nicole Lomartire said Monday there was “no rational reason” that could explain the “torturous mutilation” the children suffered.
Lomartire said that, as a relative, Espinoza Perez was in a position of trust.
“Instead, he conspired to kill the children in the most horrible fashion,” she said. “And the cruelest part of it all is the fact that the parents had to walk [into the apartment] and find their children bleeding.”
Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, the mother of Alexis Espejo Quezada, said Monday she asks God “every night to erase the memory of how I found him.”
“I want to remember him as a happy boy,” she said.
Ricardo Espinoza Perez and Noemi Quezada, parents of the other two children, have always said they believed the wrong people were arrested.
“I am not satisfied 100 percent with the investigation,” Ricardo Espinoza Perez said Monday. “My brother is innocent, and the person who committed the crime is loose.”
Jesus Espinoza Juarez, 23, a cousin of the three victims, also said he could not believe his uncle had a part in the murders.
“I grew up with him and I know what he is truly,” Espinoza Juarez said at the hearing. “He has no problems with anybody.”
Espinoza Perez himself denied the charges before sentencing on Monday.
“I have been in prison for nine years for crimes which I did not commit,” he said. “I love my family. I would never do anything against them.”