Fresno -- Marcus Wesson devised a plan nearly a decade ago for his children to kill themselves if authorities came to retrieve the clan, according to a police detective testifying at a preliminary hearing on charges Wesson murdered nine of his kids.
Wesson maintained strict control over his many children and would inflict "weeklong spankings" if they broke his rules, which included not talking to men outside of the family, Fresno homicide detective Carlos Leal testified that one of Wesson's adult daughters told him.
The 20-year-old girl said the family was forced to study the King James Bible twice a day and listen to Wesson preach, Leal said, adding that she claimed Wesson began molesting her and her sisters when they were as young as 5.
In 1995, Leal said, Wesson began talking to his family about a plan to commit mass suicide if there was a threat the children would be taken away.
"He would ask them, 'If the time came, would they be ready to die for the Lord?'" Leal said.
Leal said the girl 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."
The woman's mother sent her to live with Wesson when she was 7 years old, where she was molested and forced, along with the other female children, to wear long dresses and cover her head with a veil, Byrd said.
"She said that Mr. Wesson had told her that women aren't supposed to show their heads to God, only men can," Byrd said, adding that Wesson claimed to be Jesus Christ.
Wesson was obsessed with David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian cult that got into a deadly 1993 confrontation with federal agents outside Waco, Texas. He wanted to create a similar following within his own family, Byrd said.
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.
He is being held in lieu of $9 million bail. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
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, but the documents do not specify whether they were family members. Five of the six victims were under 14 when the attacks occurred.
Public defender Pete Jones asked to postpone the hearing, claiming his office had not received all of the new evidence and could not "put on any kind of meaningful defense."
Judge Lawrence Jones ordered the hearing to continue.
Fresno police have not disclosed a motive for the murders, but said Wesson engaged in incest and polygamy. Officers were called to the scene 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 as to whether police were on scene before or after the victims were killed.
Fresno Police officer Frank Nelson testified that he was one of the first officers to respond to the scene and did not hear gunshots.
But Nelson acknowledged under cross examination that the initial dispatch call mentioned "something about a gun."
Some neighbors claimed to have heard gunshots before police arrived and others said they heard the blasts while officers waited outside.
Nelson also said he heard an infant crying 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.
Officer Eloy Escareno testified he was the first officer to see the bodies.
"As I was checking the pulses, I began to cry because I wasn't finding any," Escareno said.
However, he added: "I noticed that several of the bodies were still warm."
Two women outside the home claimed to be the mothers of two of the children inside and provided birth certificates as proof, Nelson said.
Nelson said he spoke briefly with Wesson, who stood just inside the home's doorway.
"He told me that they were going to get to take the kids, but they just needed more time to talk," Nelson said.
Nelson said he informed Wesson that without paperwork proving custody, the children would be returned to their mothers. Nelson said Wesson told him the kids were given to him under a verbal agreement.
Nelson said he was distracted for a moment and turned his back. When he turned back around, Wesson had left the doorway and retreated to a back bedroom.
"The door was closed and that was the last time we saw him," Nelson said.
Nelson testified that the two mothers outside told him, "He's going to hurt the kids."
Nelson then called for additional officers.
He said a man who identified himself as Wesson's nephew told officers Wesson might harm the children and was armed with a gun.
"He told me that his uncle was like that guy from Waco, that he has multiple wives," Nelson said. "He told me that his uncle would probably kill them before he let anyone take them."
Nelson then called for a SWAT team. Wesson surrendered a short time later.