Another 'wife' surfaces in case

Judge to rule on letters written to Illabelle Lee, mentioned on stand

Fresno Bee/March 17, 2005
By Pablo Lopez

A Fresno judge will rule today whether jurors can learn about Marcus Wesson's "second wife," Illabelle Lee, and the love letters he sent her.

Lee, 45, who lives in Tennessee, said Wednesday evening that she could not talk about the case, but confirmed she knew Wesson 23 years ago.

"I was a friend of the family when they lived in San Jose," she said before politely ending the telephone call.

Lee's identity surfaced in Fresno County Superior Court as Wesson's niece, Ruby Ortiz, 27, testified that she married Wesson when she was 13 and he was 44.

Wesson, who is now 58, had home "weddings" with two of his daughters and two other nieces, Ortiz testified. "[Wesson] said I reminded him of Illabelle," whom Ortiz said was Wesson's "second wife," after Elizabeth Wesson.

Because Ortiz was familiar with Wesson's handwriting, prosecutor Lisa Gamoian on Wednesday wanted Ortiz to read letters that Wesson had written to Lee.

Judge R.L. Putnam, however, stopped Ortiz after Wesson's lawyers objected. Putnam will rule on the admissibility of the letters today after hearing legal arguments from both sides.

Wesson is charged with killing nine of his children inside his Fresno home near Roeding Park on March 12, 2004. He also is accused of sexually abusing his daughters and nieces. He has pleaded not guilty.

Ortiz will resume her testimony today - her fourth straight day on the witness stand. So far, her testimony has supported an account given earlier by her sister, Sofina Solorio, 29, who spent five days testifying.

Testimony has revealed that 7-year-old Jonathan, the son of Solorio and Wesson, and Aviv, also 7, the daughter of Ortiz and Wesson, were among the murdered victims. Another of the victims, 8-year-old Illabelle Carrie Wesson, was the daughter of Wesson and his daughter Kiani.

On March 12, 2004, Solorio and Ortiz went to the Wesson home to reclaim their sons. But Wesson held them off and slipped into his house.

After an 80-minute standoff with police, Wesson emerged with bloody clothing. Police then found the victims shot to death and stacked in a back bedroom.

The prosecution's theory is that Wesson made a murder-suicide pact with his children that would be carried out in the event that authorities came to split up his family.

Ortiz and Solorio have given jurors plenty to think about - they have testified that Wesson controlled his children with his interpretation of the Bible, harsh beatings, sex, isolation and rejection.

Ortiz testified Wednesday that Wesson hated the outside world, saying it was "out to get God's people and destroy them."

He also spoke of the "second coming of Christ," or the end of the world. Their only chance of salvation was through him, Ortiz said he told them.

"He said he was Jesus Christ, and our way to God was through him," Ortiz told jurors.

The outside world would never understand Wesson, Ortiz said, so he would frequently ask the mothers of his children whether they would be willing to kill the children and then themselves to keep authorities from breaking up the family.

All of the girls answered, "Yes," Ortiz said.

Ortiz said Wesson taught the girls how to load a handgun, and he told them to shoot the children and themselves under the chin because it would be quick and sure death.

Ortiz also said her younger sister, Rosa Solorio, had a unique role as one of Wesson's "soldiers," who would help him hunt down and kill family members who betrayed him.

Rosa Solorio, 23, is listed as a prosecution witness but has not yet been called to testify.

Ortiz's testimony, and that of her sister, Sofina Solorio, also support the prosecution's plan to give the jury of seven women and five men a glimpse into Wesson's incestuous lifestyle.

The two women have portrayed him as a cruel, jealous polygamist who never worked but demanded the paychecks of his children. Wesson also fed his family sparse, meatless meals, while he dined on junk food, burgers and steaks, the women told jurors.

In addition, the women said, he was obsessed with vampires and Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, who had multiple wives and children. Koresh, along with nearly 80 followers, perished in a fire at their Waco, Texas, complex, after a 51-day siege with federal agents in 1993.

Wesson's letters to Lee could shed new light on the defendant, who also has been described in testimony as an elusive wanderer who tried to stay one step ahead of authorities.

About three decades ago, Wesson lived with his parents in San Jose, Gamoian said in her opening statements to jurors. He soon started living with a neighbor, Rosemary Maytorena, who had several children.

In 1971, Wesson and Maytorena had a son named Adair Wesson.

Four years later, however, Wesson married Maytorena's daughter, Elizabeth Solorio. She was 15; he was 27. Together they had 10 children.

The Wesson household nearly doubled in 1986 when Elizabeth's sister, Rosemary Solorio, gave her seven children to Wesson to raise. At the time, the Wessons were living with Maytorena and her children in Fresno. The grandmother lived in a house on College Avenue, south of Belmont Avenue, while the Wessons and the Solorios lived in a duplex behind the home.

Ortiz and Sofina Solorio testified that living with Marcus Wesson initially was a blessing because their uncles and other relatives had molested them. They also said their mother was never around because she abused drugs and alcohol and had multiple men in her life.

Before his arrest on the murder charges, Wesson and his extended family had roamed from their home in Fresno to an Army tent in the Santa Cruz mountains to a boat in the Tomales Bay in Northern California.

Ortiz testified that she and her sister went unannounced to get their children at the Wesson home last year because they feared he was ready to move again.

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