Marcus Wesson's wife, given immunity from prosecution, told a Fresno jury Wednesday that the family survived on welfare, liked to move often and had homes that included a tent, a trailer, a boat and a motor home.
Elizabeth Wesson had a shaky start on the witness stand, forgetting how old she was and appearing confused under questioning by prosecutor Lisa Gamoian.
Before her 40 minutes of testimony ended, Wesson was irritated with Gamoian's request to detail her first 30 years with Marcus Wesson before nine children were shot to death inside their Fresno home a year ago.
Her testimony will continue when the trial resumes Monday.
Marcus Wesson, 58, is charged in Fresno County Superior Court with killing nine children on March 12, 2004. He also faces 14 counts of sexually abusing his daughters and nieces. He has pleaded not guilty.
Wesson was the father of all of the slain children, testimony has revealed. The mothers were Elizabeth Wesson, daughters Kiani and Sebhrenah, and nieces Sofina and Rosa Solorio and Ruby Ortiz.
Since the start of the trial on March 3, witnesses have testified that Elizabeth Wesson knew of her husband's incestuous relationships with his daughters and nieces and the family's alleged murder-suicide pact.
Judge R.L. Putnam signed Gamoian's request to give Elizabeth Wesson immunity, which means anything she says can't be used to prosecute her.
Wesson, however, will face perjury and contempt charges if she lies on the witness stand, Putnam said. Testimony has revealed that the killings were sparked when Wesson's nieces, Sofina Solorio and Ruby Ortiz, went to the Wesson home to reclaim their children. Years before, the two women, as well as five siblings, were raised by the Wessons. In turn, the women gave their children to the Wessons to raise.
Elizabeth Wesson started her testimony stating her date of birth - July 31, 1959. She then said she is 44 years old, but is actually 45.
Asked to identify the defendant, she nervously pointed toward her husband.
Gamoian then asked her who is the mother of Jonathan, one of the slain children.
"Sofia gave Jonathan to me, so I am his mother," Wesson declared. Sofia is Sofina Solorio's nickname.
Then who is the mother of Aviv, another murdered victim?
Again Wesson replied she was the mother, insisting Ortiz had given the child to her.
Wesson then submitted to Gamoian's request to name the biological mothers of all of the slain children.
Wesson testified that she never worked and that her husband once held a job - briefly - as a bank teller. Mainly, the family lived on welfare for the past 30 years, she told jurors.
She said she married Marcus Wesson when she was 15 and he was 27 or 28. By then, Marcus, who had been in the Army, already had a son, Adair, whose mother was Elizabeth's mother.
Over the years, Wesson said, she had 11 children. But she gave jurors only the names of nine of her children and never identified the other two.
Gamoian asked Wesson why she did not work. "I am a housewife," she said, saying she cooked, washed clothes, paid bills and took care of the children "like a mother should."
Then why didn't her husband work? "You can't work if you are on welfare," she replied.
Don't you think he should work, especially since he has to care for nine children?
"I don't know," she said. "You have to ask him."
Initially, she and Wesson lived temporarily with Wesson's parents in San Jose. They then rented a home in San Jose.
Once her first three children were born, the family moved to Santa Cruz, where they lived in a house, then a trailer, and then a motor home.
In Santa Cruz, Wesson said, her husband saved enough welfare money to purchase a boat called Happy Bottoms.
During those early years, Wesson recalled, she and her husband and nine children moved between Santa Cruz and Fresno, where her mother and other relatives lived.
"We liked to move around for no particular reason," she told jurors.
They later gained custody of seven children of Elizabeth Wesson's sister. Some of those children became the mothers of the slain children.
Monday, Elizabeth Wesson will delve into tougher subjects, including her husband's penchant for "loving," the term family members used for the alleged sexual abuse of his daughters and nieces, and his "marriages" to them.
Other subjects will include Marcus Wesson's belief that he is Jesus Christ and his alleged murder-suicide pact, which would be carried out if outside forces came to split up the family.
Earlier Wednesday, the jury heard a police audiotape in which Wesson's niece, Rosa Solorio, spoke of his murder-suicide plan.
Gamoian played the nearly three-hour tape because Solorio, whose son, Ethan, 4, and daughter, Sedona, 1, were among the slain victims, tried on the witness stand to retract her statements to police.
In the taped interview, Solorio told detectives Doug Reese and Michele Ochoa that Wesson often said he "walked as Christ" and would read the Bible and interpreted it, and no one would disagree with him.
"The children are the Lord's," Wesson would often say, according to Solorio. "No one can touch them."
When Reese asked her what would happen if someone touched them, Solorio replied: "We would all go to the Lord," or kill themselves.
Over the years, Solorio said, Wesson talked about the second coming of Christ or the end of the world, and asked his children if they are ready "to go to the Lord."
Wesson told his children to shoot themselves in the temple or heart, she said. [The nine slain children were shot in the eye.]
Solorio would not tell detectives who fathered her two slain children. In court, she identified Wesson as the father.
"I do love Marcus a lot," Solorio said on the tape. "I understand what he did and everything. But at the same time, it's just that to me, he's my father, and I do not want to be responsible for putting him away. I just don't feel that it's right for me to do it."
After the tape was played, Wesson's son, Serafino Wesson, testified about the events leading up to the slayings and his father's demeanor that day.
Serafino Wesson testified that his father acted as a peacemaker, telling people to stop fighting and cooperating with police.
It was more than calm, Gamoian said, reading Serafino's previous statement to police: "My dad was so calm, it was creepy."
Serafino Wesson also said only his father knows what happened inside the home.
"There's such a thing as forgiveness," he told jurors. "So why hate him since I don't know the truth of what happened?"