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Wesson Found Guilty of Killing 9

A Fresno jury convicts on 23 counts, including rape and incest. Murder victims all were children of the defendant, who claimed he was Jesus.

June 18, 2005|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

FRESNO — Marcus Wesson, a controlling patriarch who taught his family that he was Jesus and fathered babies with his daughters and nieces, was found guilty of murdering nine of his children Friday -- convictions for last year's slayings that could result in a death sentence.

The jury, which deliberated for 10 days, also found Wesson guilty of 14 counts of forcible rape, oral copulation and continuous sexual abuse involving his daughters and nieces.

The killings, which were triggered by a child custody dispute, have been described as the worst mass murder in the city's history. The victims, ages 1 to 25, were all shot in an eye; their bodies were found stacked in a backroom in the house, from youngest to oldest.

While the verdicts were read, Wesson, much slimmer and dressed in black, sat silently. Afterward, his wife, Elizabeth, and other relatives left in tears without speaking to reporters. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Dist. Atty. Elizabeth Egan also were present.

Later, Sofina Solorio, whose 7-year-old son Jonathan was among the murder victims and who herself was a victim of abuse, said she wanted to talk but would wait. Jurors now will enter the penalty phase of the trial, which is expected to begin next week.

"I have a lot to say," Solorio said, "but I'm not going to say it right now."

The case earned this Central Valley town a spot in the national media and got so much local attention that defense attorneys unsuccessfully sought a change of venue. Judge R.L. Putnam asked the lawyers not to discuss the case with the media, and attorneys for both sides declined to be interviewed Friday.

The three-month trial -- and the testimony of 50 witnesses -- offered a disturbing family portrait, replete with polygamy, incest, bizarre Bible teachings and vampire admiration.

The March 12, 2004, murders were prompted by a child custody dispute. Years before, two of Wesson's nieces whom he had "married" had left the family home and given their children to him to raise.

A feud broke out when the women and their supporters went to the Wesson house to retrieve their children. After a standoff with police, Wesson walked outside, his clothes smeared with blood, all the children dead.

The prosecution prevailed in spite of evidence suggesting that Wesson might not have pulled the trigger. His fingerprints and DNA were not found on the murder weapon. Gun residue was not found on his hands.

Defense attorneys Ralph Torres and Peter M. Jones argued that the real killer was Wesson's 25-year-old daughter Sebhrenah Wesson, the oldest of the dead children, whose DNA was found on the murder weapon and who Solorio testified was so fascinated with weapons that she carried cartridges and knives in her purse and played Army.

But prosecutor Lisa Gamoian argued that Wesson's uncommon control over the children, and a murder-suicide pact he forged with them, meant he was ultimately responsible for the killings -- whether he pulled the trigger or not.

" 'It's better to die than have the government or some agency break up the family,' " Gamoian quoted Wesson as telling his older children. " 'Are you ready to die? If [Child Protective Services] ever comes in, we are to kill the kids and kill ourselves so we can be with the Lord.' "

The prosecution depicted Wesson as a manipulator who had sex and children with three generations of women in the same family: a woman, her daughter and her granddaughters.

As the head of a clan with 16 children -- nine of his own with his wife and seven nieces and nephews -- he controlled his household through sexual and physical abuse and a perverted religious ideology. According to testimony, Wesson home-schooled the children and taught that the world was full of sin and danger and that he was Christ.

Wesson was also a strict disciplinarian who punished his children with a stick and subjected them to long Bible lessons, including passages that justified polygamy.

Testimony revealed that Wesson began molesting his daughters and nieces when they were as young as 8, and eventually engaged in sex with them. In an informal ceremony, he "married" some of them, then had seven babies with them "for the Lord."

The defense did not dispute the polygamy and incestuous relationships. DNA confirmed that Wesson was the father of all the children who were killed. They argued that Wesson, a former Army medic who was stationed in Vietnam for a time, was eccentric but not a murderer.

Sebhrenah Wesson's DNA was found on the murder weapon. The defense argued that she placed a gun to the socket of each child's right eye and fired, killing her own son, Marshey St. Christopher Wesson, 18 months, and six other siblings: Jeva St. Vladensvspry Wesson, 1; Sedona Vadra Wesson, 18 months; Ethan St. Laurent Wesson, 4; Jonathan St. Charles Wesson, 7; Aviv Dominique Wesson, 7; and Illabelle Carrie Wesson, 8.

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