Detective: Fresno Man Planned Mass Suicide

Reuters/April 9, 2004
By Juliana Barbassa

Fresno, Calif. -- A man charged with killing nine of his children ordered the adult ones to kill their younger siblings and then commit suicide if authorities ever tried to break up his family, one of his daughters told investigators.

Marcus Wesson's nearly decade-old plan to eliminate his family was one of the grisly details revealed Thursday by detectives testifying at the preliminary hearing for the man who allegedly fathered children through polygamy and incest.

More about Wesson's actions and the sexual and physical abuse he used to control his family is expected Monday when the hearing continues.

Wesson preached to his children that he was God, punishing them with a duct-tape covered rod twice a day for a week if they broke his rules, which included not talking to men outside of the family, Detective Carlos Leal testified that one of Wesson's adult daughters told him.

The 20-year-old woman claimed Wesson began molesting her and her sisters when they were as young as 5, Leal said. Officers testified that several of Wesson's daughters and nieces eventually became pregnant by him.

Wesson began talking to his family in 1995 about committing mass suicide if there was a threat the children would be taken away, Leal said.

"He would ask them, 'If the time came, would they be ready to die for the Lord?'" Leal said.

Leal said the woman told him that if authorities came to break up the family, "the older ones would kill the children and would commit suicide."

Another detective, Richard Byrd, testified that an adult niece of Wesson's, with whom the man also had a child, told of an even more gruesome plan.

Wesson called the girls "his soldiers," Byrd said, adding that when it was time to commit suicide, the niece said Wesson would order them to "go out and kill the rest of the family members that were no longer in his house."

Wesson, 57, has pleaded innocent to charges he murdered a 25-year-old woman and eight of his children ranging in age from 1 to 17. Police said the woman, who was Wesson's daughter, also was the mother of one of the slain children.

Before Thursday's preliminary hearing, Wesson pleaded innocent to 33 additional charges of sexual abuse dating to 1988.

The new accusations include multiple charges of continuous sexual abuse and forcible rape against females who lived with him. Five of the six victims were under 14 when the attacks occurred.

Fresno police have not disclosed a motive for the murders. Officers were called to Wesson's house March 12 when several of the children's mothers were unable to take their children away from him.

When Wesson emerged from the house with blood on his clothes, he was arrested. The victims were found piled one on top of another, entangled in bloody clothes.

There have been questions about whether police were at the scene before the victims were killed.

Police testified that two family members outside the home claimed to have heard several gunshots while authorities were outside. Other relatives claim to have seen some of the victims alive inside the home after police arrived.

Officer Frank Nelson testified he was one of the first to arrive at the house and did not hear gunshots.

But Nelson acknowledged under cross examination that the initial dispatch call mentioned "something about a gun."

Nelson also said he heard an infant cry out while he talked to Wesson from outside the doorway of the home. Police haven't said when the victims were killed, but coroner's reports indicate they died within moments of being shot.

Wesson is being held on $9 million bail. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

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