Jury recommends death for Marcus Wesson in killings of 9 children

Associated Press/June 30, 2005
By Juliana Barbassa

Fresno, Calif. - For years, Marcus Wesson was a domineering patriarch of a large clan he bred through incest, controlling nearly every move his children made. But he could only watch impassively as a court clerk read the verdict recommending he be sentenced to death for masterminding the murders of nine of those children.

The verdict Wednesday brought some closure to a gruesome case that shook this rural central California town.

Wesson, 58, was convicted earlier this month on nine counts of first-degree murder. The bodies of the victims - ages 1 to 25 - were discovered March 12, 2004, at the end of a police standoff in a bloody mound in Wesson's Fresno home.

Each victim had been shot once in the eye. Among the dead were also children Wesson fathered with his own daughters and nieces.

The body of the oldest victim - Wesson's daughter Sebhrenah - was found lying on top of the pile of others, including her infant son Marshey, a child she had with her father.

As Wesson waited for the verdict, he never once turned to look at his many family members gathered in the gallery behind him. The man with dreadlocks to his knees occasionally ran his fingers up and down the long table he shared with attorneys, as if playing a grand piano.

Prosecutors said he had the children killed for fear authorities were about to break up the clan and take the youngsters away. The standoff began after two of Wesson's nieces who had escaped from the home went back to try to get their children.

His lawyer contended Sebhrenah Wesson shot the others, then committed suicide, carrying out a detailed murder-suicide pact devised by her father years earlier.

Jurors spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, saying they were relieved to see the end of an emotionally draining case that led some of them to tears and nightmares.

"People wrestled with their emotion. People had to wrestle with their spirituality and their faith. It'll stay with us forever," said juror number 8, a slender middle-aged woman.

None of the jurors gave their name, profession, or any identifying characteristics.

Deliberations in the penalty phase of the trial began Monday after Wesson's defense attorney pleaded for a life sentence, saying killing Wesson won't "undo the harm done."

Attorney Pete Jones also suggested that doubts remain about Wesson's culpability despite his conviction, since jurors decided the government failed to prove Wesson pulled the trigger on the gun used to shoot each victim.

But prosecutor Lisa Gamoian called Wesson a "master manipulator" whose sexual, financial and emotional exploitation of his children over decades culminated in their execution. It didn't matter whether Wesson fired the gun - he orchestrated the killings, she said.

His defense largely conceded the sex charges, since DNA testing showed Wesson fathered the victims.

According to testimony, Wesson would repeatedly ask his children if they were ready to "go to the Lord." Witnesses said he preached a plan that if authorities ever tried to break up the clan, they were kill each other, youngest to oldest.

In addition to the murder counts, Wesson was convicted on 14 counts of sexual abuse, including the rape of some of his underage daughters.

Outside court, Jones said he was "extremely disappointed" with the verdict.

"I've gotten to know Marcus Wesson over the last year. I've spent a lot of time with him in isolation," Jones said. "In spite of what the perception might be, we've developed a good relationship."

Gamoian declined to comment.

Police responded to Wesson's home the day of killings for a child custody dispute.

Two mothers of Wesson's children - nieces who were raised in his household, and became pregnant by him - had returned to claim their kids. Wesson refused and kept authorities at the front door before ducking into a back bedroom.

He emerged about an hour later with blood spattered on his clothes.

Formal sentencing is set for July 27. Fresno County Judge R. L. Putnam will also sentence Wesson on the sexual assault convictions that day.

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