FRESNO — A jury began deliberations Friday in the murder trial of Marcus Wesson -- a case that has captivated this town with talk of incest, vampires, a murder-suicide pact and nine slain children discovered in a back bedroom, their bodies stacked youngest to oldest, ages 1 to 25.
The day Wesson walked out of his home 15 months ago -- his clothes bloodstained and nine of his children dead -- he seemed well on his way to national infamy, the kind reserved for serial killers and child rapists.
The mayor called the case Fresno's 9/11. Police called it Fresno's worst mass murder. National media carried headlines: "House of Horrors" and "Suffer the Little Children: Murder in Fresno."
But now, national media are mostly absent. They left for the Michael Jackson case long before testimony about Wesson's fixation with vampires, his talk of being Jesus Christ and the "marriages" to his daughters.
"I love you, my Daddy, always know that. I am deeply in love with you. I will never leave you," Kiani Wesson said on the witness stand, reading from a diary.
Although Jackson's child-molestation case has dominated national news, the Wesson case has dominated the news here since it began in March.
The jury is deliberating on nine murder counts, nine counts of forcible rape and oral copulation, and five counts of continuous sexual abuse. If convicted on the murder charges, Wesson, 58, could face the death penalty.
The prosecution has argued that Wesson constructed a world in which child rape, physical abuse and polygamy were accepted. When a child custody dispute with two of his "wives" threatened to end that world, a prosecutor said, he murdered his children.
Even if Wesson didn't actually pull the trigger, the prosecutor argued, he is still responsible for the deaths because of a murder-suicide pact he formed with his children, teaching them that it would be better to "go home to the Lord" than to allow authorities to separate the family.
The defense maintains that incest, polygamy and a perversion of Bible teachings do not equal murder. The killer, who later committed suicide, was not Wesson but his 25-year-old daughter Sebhrenah April Wesson, they argued. According to testimony, she was so obsessed with guns and knives that she carried bullets in her purse and painted her face in green and black camouflage so she could "play Army."
Defense attorneys Ralph Torres and Peter M. Jones have also presented witnesses who allege that sloppy police work contaminated the crime scene.
"Does it matter?" prosecutor Lisa Gamoian asked, grilling one witness who questioned police handling of the crime scene. "Does it change the fact that nine people were killed with a .22-caliber pistol?"
Testimony from about 50 witnesses over three months has unveiled a family whose history reads like a chapter from the Old Testament: a generational story of sin begetting sin, and children suffering for the indiscretions of their father.
It began in the 1960s. Wesson had sex with one woman, years later with her daughter, and decades later with her granddaughters.
By the time the story reached its tragic apex, an entire generation -- the children Wesson conceived with the granddaughters -- had been killed.
During the trial, Wesson has at times voiced objections and at other times sat eerily oblivious while witnesses testified about his life, his family and the killings.
Marcus Delon Wesson grew up in Kansas and San Jose in what his mother described as a hard-working Christian family; they were Seventh-day Adventists. During the Vietnam War, Wesson was a medic in the Army, stationed in Germany and Vietnam. He was honorably discharged and returned to San Jose.
There he began a relationship with Rose Solorio, who was 13 years his senior and the mother of eight children. Eventually, Wesson moved into the Solorio household and became its head. They had one son together.
Then the family tree bent toward the bizarre: Wesson impregnated Solorio's daughter, Elizabeth, when she was 14. With Solorio's permission, Wesson and Elizabeth married. She was 15, Wesson was 27. It was 1974.
Over the years, they would have five boys and four girls. Their family ballooned even larger when the couple took in seven nieces and nephews.
Witnesses described life in the home with 16 children in strikingly different terms.
In Wesson's view, the outside world was full of sin and danger, so the children were home-schooled. And Wesson taught from the Bible, often asking: "Are you ready for the Lord?"
Wesson spanked the children, but offered an explanation: "Well, you know I love you still, and the only reason I'm doing this is to make you a better person," a niece, Rosa Solorio, quoted him as saying.
Wesson bought 10 caskets that were found after the killings, but he purchased them for their wood, Rosa Solorio testified. They also easily converted into beds, she testified. The family eventually moved to Fresno, owned property, boats and enjoyed a good life.