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Parents Say Wrong Men Blamed in Murders

September 9, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) _ It has been about 10 years since Ricardo Espinoza Perez paid $450 to smugglers to help guide him from Mexico to a new life in the United States, where he worked to raise money to bring his wife and two small children across the border. But his hope turned to horror in May 2004, when his son and daughter were gruesomely murdered, along with their young cousin. Perez’s brother, Policarpio Espinoza, 24, and nephew, Adan Canela, 19, were charged with the crimes.

The men were convicted last month of murdering them, and police believe other family members may have played a role in the murders. But Perez insists they wouldn’t have done it.

``I never got in conflict with my brother and my nephew,″ Perez said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Now, with two relatives facing life in prison, two others facing deportation and his own immigration status in limbo, Perez said he is scared the killers remain at large.

Detective Irvin Bradley said police are still asking questions, and hope relatives will resist intimidation within the family.

``This is a family with secrets, and they know and they keep it amongst themselves,″ Bradley said.

Perez said he would like to remain in the U.S. with his wife and their new baby daughter until he knows was really happened to his two older children, 8-year-old Lucero and 9-year-old Ricardo Jr.

Ernestine Fobbs, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the family’s status is pending but declined to comment further.

Two other relatives were ordered to return to Mexico after their immigration status came out amid publicity over the murders.

The fact that the family was brought into the country by smugglers has fueled speculation that they could have been connected to the killings. But Perez, 35, maintains they had no motive because he didn’t owe them money and the crimes happened about seven years after he and his family entered the country.

``I paid for everybody,″ he said.

Perez said that in 1996, guides pointed out a path he could follow to sneak across the border near Tijuana. He flew from Los Angeles to New York, where he worked in a kitchen to earn $2,500 to pay smugglers to bring his wife and their two children across the border in 1997. The family moved in 2001 to Baltimore and the children enrolled in public school.

He said he and his wife returned from work on May 27, 2004, to find the nearly beheaded bodies of the children and their cousin, 10-year-old Alexis Espejo Quezada. Alexis was the son of Maria Andrea Espejo Quezada, who was living with the family.

Perez and his wife, Noemi Espinoza Quezada, 32, worry that someone with a grudge against Maria Andrea may be responsible for what happenened, a theory police discount.

In a trial last year that ended in a hung jury, prosecutor Sharon Holback told jurors that the three children ``lived in a home that was unsafe″ because of ``some secret″ buried in the family. She said relatives were afraid to tell the truth.

In the second trial, she argued that while the reasons for the killings were unclear, the evidence was obvious.

It included testimony from a neighbor who said that two nights before the murders, she saw the suspects acting suspiciously in the back of the apartment building where the children lived. It also included two pairs of jeans with the children’s blood and skin cells matching Espinoza and Canela’s DNA.

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Associated Press Writer Alex Dominguez contributed to this report.

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