Accused Calif. Killer Said to Have Led Incest Cult

Reuters/March 3, 2005
By Jorene Barut-Phillips

Fresno, Calif. -- A Californian accused of killing nine of his children and grandchildren engaged in incest and polygamy and admired a deceased cult leader, prosecutors said at the start of his trial on Thursday.

Authorities allege Marcus Wesson, 58, fatally shot seven of his children and two of his grandchildren, aged 1 to 26, inside his Fresno, California, home a year ago. He fathered all victims through incest and polygamy with daughters and nieces.

The charges make Wesson eligible for the death penalty in the worst mass killing in Fresno in California's agriculture-rich Central Valley.

Defense lawyers told the jury that they had a digital audio recording of the events surrounding the killings. "He didn't shoot them," said Wesson's lawyer, Ralph Torres.

He told the jury the recording shows Wesson eagerly anticipating the police arrival to resolve an escalating domestic situation. The recording also has "blood-curdling screams" after family members discovered the dead, he said.

The bearded defendant, weighing noticeably less than his 380 pounds at the time of arrest, sat erect throughout the proceedings, his trademark thick gray dreadlocks loosely held in a ponytail that fell below his knees.

The prosecution alleges that the slayings followed a custody battle that ensued when two of Wesson's daughters, who had left years earlier, and approximately 10 other relatives arrived to remove the women's two children from the home.

Prosecutor Lisa Gamoian described Wesson's lifestyle of incest and polygamy and admiration for David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian cult who was killed in a fiery 1993 confrontation with authorities in Texas.

She painted Wesson as a calm cult-like figure whose word was obeyed without question by the victims. He sometimes beat them with a stick or a baseball bat and held Bible study sessions three times daily, sometimes at 1 a.m., she said.

"At times, under his direction and presence, the girls would engage in sexual acts," Gamoian said.

The defense said Sebhrenah Wesson, the 26-year-old murdered woman and Wesson's daughter, killed the children and then shot herself. She is also the mother of one of the slain children.

Defense attorney Torres conceded his client is a zealot, polygamist and dysfunctional man, but not a murderer. "He believed in a certain way of raising his children," the attorney said. "Religion was powerful to him. He had deeply held beliefs but he was a flawed man."

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