Wesson jurors line up

Fresno Bee/January 26, 2005
By Matt Leedy

Downtown Fresno greets 540 potential panelists for the mass-murder trial.

Marcus Wesson stepped into a packed ballroom Tuesday and 540 people went silent as the suspect in Fresno's worst mass murder faced those who could decide his fate.

"I'd like to introduce you to my client, our client: Marcus Delon Wesson," public defender Peter Jones said to the crowd.

Wesson - flanked by Jones and another public defender, Ralph Torres - stood as a roomful of prospective jurors looked up at the man accused of killing nine of his children and sexually assaulting seven other family members.

The 58-year-old buried his head in his left hand as Judge R.L. Putnam read the charges against him, allegations that could bring the death penalty if he is convicted. Wesson has pleaded not guilty.

His long, graying dreadlocks were pulled back in a massive ponytail. And he was dressed in black: from boots to cargo pants and a button-down short-sleeve shirt. With the exception of a yellow jail-issued jumpsuit, it's the only outfit Wesson has worn during his many court hearings.

A diverse mix of Fresno County residents converged on downtown Fresno for the first day of jury selection.

By 8 a.m., some already were grumbling about being called for the Marcus Wesson trial. They examined their jury summonses, talked on cell phones and smoked cigarettes while waiting in a line that snaked through the Fresno County Plaza courtyard and onto a Tulare Street sidewalk for nearly a block.

They read books, newspapers and magazines and studied crossword puzzles. They wondered out loud when they could leave.

It took about 2 1/2 hours before they all made it into the ballroom and 40 minutes to call roll. About half of the prospective jurors filled out a 21-page questionnaire, revealing both mundane and personal details about their lives and opinions.

They gave their views on religion and the death penalty, and were asked about the neighborhoods where they grew up, their political leanings and what they know about one of Fresno's most high-profile crimes.

The rest completed a hardship form, explaining why they can't sit on a jury for a trial expected to last until the end of April.

Twelve jurors and five alternates are expected to be chosen by Feb. 28. Testimony is scheduled to begin March 1.

If there are no delays, and Putnam has said not to expect any, Wesson will be tried one year after his arrest on March 12, when police found the nine victims - ranging in age from 1 to 25 - stacked in a back bedroom of his Fresno home.

On Tuesday, potential jurors were asked to answer 123 questions and review a witness list of 200 people to see whether they know anyone who could be called to testify.

The witness list includes about 20 of Wesson's relatives, some of his former neighbors and various experts. There are 72 members of the Fresno Police Department, including Chief Jerry Dyer, eight people from the FBI and about a dozen people from agencies in Clovis, Santa Cruz County and Marin County.

The questionnaire ranged from the routine - age, job, birthplace - to the intrusive, with questions about prospective jurors' criminal histories and whether they've been a witness or victim of crimes such as sexual abuse and molestation.

They were asked about their opinions of the criminal justice system and police. They were asked about the racial and ethnic makeup of people they grew up with, went to school with and worked with. And they were asked what, if any, personal problems they have at home or work that could distract them during trial.

Prospective jurors learned that, if selected, they'll see graphic photographs. "This will not be pleasant," according to question 78, which continued: "Do you believe looking at such photographs would upset you so much that you could not fairly listen to and consider all the evidence in the case."

The victims were all shot in the eye, and blood pooled on the floor under their bodies.

The jurors were ordered not to talk about the case or read, watch or listen to any news accounts of the case.

The prospective jurors didn't begin paging through the questionnaire until Wesson walked out of the ballroom along with his attorneys, the judge and prosecutor Lisa Gamoian.

Wesson's stride was deliberate and unrestrained. For the first time in public since his arrest, he walked without shackles.

Prospective jurors who turned in the hardship forms were told to come back today, when they will be excused or told they're still part of the potential jury pool.

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