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Suspect in Fresno Slayings Is Arraigned

March 26, 2004|From Associated Press

FRESNO — The suspect in Fresno's worst mass killing pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that he murdered nine of his children, while his newly appointed public defender asked a judge to lift the visitation restrictions that have kept surviving relatives from seeing his client.

Wearing a yellow jail jumpsuit, Marcus Wesson did not look at four relatives who appeared at his arraignment as he entered his pleas to nine counts of first-degree murder.

The multiple slayings make him eligible for the death penalty.

"Our office will conduct a vigorous investigation," public defender Peter Jones said after the hearing. "He's still cloaked in a presumption of innocence."

Wesson has been kept in isolation at the Fresno County Jail, unable to receive visits or phone calls from relatives.

Police said they feared relatives might harm themselves at Wesson's direction, basing that caution on a phone call from a woman who called the jail March 14, two days after Wesson surrendered to authorities.

"We were told they would request his permission to commit suicide," said Wes Merritt, a chief deputy in the Fresno County counsel's office.

Judge Brant Bramer has scheduled a Tuesday hearing on the defense motion to have the restrictions lifted.

The arraignment took place one day after funeral services were held for the nine victims, who ranged in age from 1 to 25. All the victims had been shot in the face.

Wesson's remaining family members gathered Wednesday for funeral services honoring the nine victims found in the small house shrouded by pines.

One service was held in a west Fresno church for seven of the victims, and another was held at a Clovis church for two others.

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