Third sister tells of conflict

Rosa Solorio testifies about fateful confrontation at Wesson home.

Fresno Bee/March 24, 2005
By Pablo Lopez

A woman labeled as Marcus Wesson's "strong soldier" tearfully recalled Wednesday the events leading up to the killings of nine children in his Fresno home last year.

Rosa Solorio, 23, began her testimony in Fresno County Superior Court, wiping tears from her eyes as she recited the names of the children killed in Wesson's home near Roeding Park.

Among the dead were Solorio's two children, Ethan, 4, and Sedona, 1.

Her account followed that of her older sisters, Sofina Solorio and Ruby Ortiz, who told jurors that Wesson, the women's uncle, had designated Rosa Solorio as one of his "strong soldiers."

Among the "soldiers'" jobs was to carry out a murder-suicide pact that Wesson allegedly had made with his daughters and nieces if authorities came to break up the family. Wesson, 58, is charged with killing nine of his children March 12, 2004. He also faces 14 counts of sexually abusing his daughters and nieces.

He has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers, Ralph Torres and Peter Jones, contend that Wesson's daughter, Sebhrenah, shot the children and then fatally shot herself.

In previous testimony, Rosa Solorio's two sisters also identified Sebhrenah Wesson as one of Wesson's "soldiers."

Wednesday, Rosa Solorio appeared nervous as she answered a barrage of questions from prosecutor Lisa Gamoian.

Solorio, however, remained calm, though tearful.

From the witness stand, she pointed toward Wesson after Gamoian asked her to identify the man accused of killing the children. As Solorio testified, she slightly shifted her body so she could better see the jurors, instead of Wesson.

Unlike most days, when he has cried during testimony, Wesson appeared unemotional. During the morning break, he pretended to play keyboards and conduct an orchestra while singing to himself. Wesson has written 13 to 14 country-western songs in jail, testimony has revealed.

Rosa Solorio said that on the afternoon of March 12, 2004, her sisters, Sofina Solorio and Ruby Ortiz, arrived at the Wesson home unexpectedly to reclaim their two children. Years before, the women had given the children to Wesson to raise.

When the women arrived at the house, Wesson and his children were working on a large bus outside the home, planning to leave Fresno to visit his parents in Washington state.

"I came to get my son," Sofina Solorio said, rushing into Wesson's home to get 7-year-old Jonathan.

Rosa Solorio said she followed her sister and told her: "You promised you wouldn't do this. You left him to us."

Ruby Ortiz also demanded the return of her 7-year-old daughter, Aviv. But Wesson's family would not give her up, either, saying Ortiz also had given up her rights to the child.

"That's was the first time I had seen Ruby in five years," Rosa Solorio told jurors.

Inside the home, Sofina Solorio managed to grab her son's hand, but Rosa Solorio said she took the boy away. Soon afterward, Rosa Solorio testified, she put Jonathan in a rear bedroom with the other young children, while the adults sorted out the custody issues.

By then, many members of the Solorio family had gathered at the Wesson home to support Sofina and Ruby.

Rosa Solorio testified that Marcus Wesson stationed himself at the front door to block people from entering the home without permission. She said Wesson calmly told both families to work out the custody dispute.

Instead of settling their differences, Rosa Solorio said, both sides yelled, argued and cursed each other. Rosa Solorio recalled that one of Wesson's children chanted "Judas, Judas, Judas" to Sofina Solorio. She said they also called Sofina Solorio and Ruby Ortiz "whore" and "bitch."

Rosa Solorio, feeling betrayed by Sofina, called her "Lucifer."

Solorio, however, could not recall whether Wesson's children had told her sisters to "bow down to the master," as was said in previous testimony.

Solorio recalled her mother, Rosemary Solorio, fought with Sofina and others, and that her brother, Danny Solorio, had to grab his mother to stop her. She said Elizabeth Wesson appeared confused.

While the two families argued, Sebhrenah Wesson apparently slipped into the back bedroom with the children, Solorio testified.

When police arrived, Solorio said, she would not let officers into the home.

"Police had no warrant. They had no right to go in there," she told jurors.

Rosa Solorio said she walked out of the Wesson home with Sofina so they could talk to other family members outside. As she left the home, she no longer noticed Wesson at the front door.

After talking to family members outside, Rosa Solorio said, she headed back toward the house. She was at the front door when Elizabeth Wesson rushed out of the home and screamed: "They are all gone."

Rosa Solorio said her sisters, Sofina and Ruby, cried and screamed at police to enter the home. She wiped tears from her eyes as she recalled Elizabeth Wesson's "pale" face.

Solorio said police quickly surrounded the house and strung up yellow crime tape. "I looked around and wondered what's going on," she told jurors.

Previous testimony has indicated that Wesson is the father of all of the slain victims. The mothers include his wife, Elizabeth, daughters Kiani and Sebhrenah, and nieces Sofina and Rosa Solorio, and Ruby Ortiz.

Rosa Solorio's testimony will resume today; she is likely to address allegations that Wesson had an incestuous relationship with her, had "married" her and designated her a "soldier."

Before Solorio testified, Judge R.L. Putnam told her that she could speak to a lawyer to ensure she doesn't incriminate herself. Solorio declined the suggestion.

Putnam also has informed Wesson's daughter, Kiani, who also has been identified as one of Wesson's "soldiers," that she, too, could speak to a lawyer; she also has declined.

Only Elizabeth Wesson has accepted Putnam's offer. The prosecution might grant her immunity for her testimony. Elizabeth Wesson's lawyer, Douglas Foster, said Wednesday that an immunity agreement has not been signed.

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