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Father Pleads No Contest in Deaths of 2 Newborns

April 21, 1993|JOHN CHANDLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LANCASTER — A father charged with murder in the deaths of two of his newborn children pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter Tuesday and in a related hearing his spouse was ordered to stand trial for murder in the case.

In one of the most gruesome in a string of Antelope Valley child abuse slayings, authorities last year charged Ronald E. Wesselmann and Sharon F. Conley with killing their two newborns. Prosecutors said they also suspected Conley of killing as many as four other of her newborn babies.

"Are there more children out there? Yes, I'm as convinced of it as I'm sitting here," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Smalstig.

However, despite extensive digging in the high desert, authorities have not been able to find the remains of any other children.

Wesselmann, 39, of Quartz Hill, pleaded no contest to the lesser manslaughter charge Tuesday in Antelope Municipal Court under a plea bargain with prosecutors. He faces an 11-year state prison sentence.

In the plea-bargain agreement, prosecutors said they would not seek additional charges against him for allegedly sexually abusing some of his elder daughters.

Judge Ian Grant set Wesselmann's sentencing for May 11 in Lancaster Superior Court.

Under the deal, Wesselmann will not get credit for the 15 months he has already spent in custody when he begins serving his sentence. He and Conley were arrested in February, 1992, and have remained in custody without bail.

Smalstig said he will now seek the death penalty against Conley, 35, after Grant also ruled Tuesday that she must stand trial for murder in the deaths of her two newborns: a boy discovered in a trash dumpster in February, 1992, and the remains of another infant found in September, 1987.

Although both adults were charged with two counts of murder, authorities say they believe that Conley actually disposed of the newborns because Wesselmann had insisted that Conley not bear any more children. Wesselmann's manslaughter plea Tuesday pertained to the infant found in 1992.

Six of the couple's seven surviving children have been placed in foster homes where they are doing well, Smalstig said. A seventh child is an adult. The prosecutor said he would have filed abuse charges against Wesselmann involving two or three of his surviving daughters had Wesselmann not entered the plea.

According to court records, county social service workers had received complaints against the couple for treatment of their children beginning in 1974. Records show that the county removed the couple's children from their home at least twice, once in 1986 and again in 1987, only to return them.

Conley has pleaded not guilty to the two murder charges. She has said she placed the infant born in 1992 in the dumpster because he did not appear to be breathing. But an autopsy ruled that the infant was born alive and had breathed at least initially.

Conley faces a May 4 arraignment in Lancaster Superior Court.

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