Marcus Wesson's daughter Sebhrenah could have committed suicide after her eight siblings were shot to death in March 2004, a forensic pathologist testified Monday in Fresno County Superior Court.
Dr. Venu Gopal said he initially ruled all nine deaths as homicides because he based his conclusion on information he received from police at the time of slayings.
Since the killings, Gopal said, he talked to other experts, did research, and decided that 25-year-old Sebhrenah could have fatally shot herself in her right eye.
"Yes, it can happen that way," Gopal testified in Judge R.L. Putnam's courtroom.
Gopal also testified that the seven younger children died one to two hours before Sebhrenah and Elizabeth, 17, died. Today, prosecutor Lisa Gamoian will ask Gopal to clarify his findings.
Marcus Wesson, 58, is charged with killing nine of his children inside his central Fresno home on March 12, 2004. He also is accused of sexually abusing his daughters and nieces. He has pleaded not guilty.
Gopal's testimony is crucial to the defense theory that Sebhrenah shot her eight siblings and then committed suicide. Gamoian, however, has charged Marcus Wesson with personally using a gun to shoot all nine victims.
Gopal, who works for the Fresno County Coroner's Office, performed the autopsies on all nine victims. He began his testimony by explaining in graphic detail the victims' injuries.
Marcus Wesson wiped tears from his eyes as Gopal spoke.
Jurors later spent about 35 minutes viewing the autopsy photographs. Most of the jurors inspected the photographs closely. One juror glanced at the photographs and quickly passed them along.
Killed were Sebhrenah; Elizabeth; Illabelle, 8; Aviv and Jonathan, both 7; Ethan, 4; Sedona and Marshy, both 18 months; and Jeva, 1. Each was fatally shot in the right eye, except for Marshey, who was shot in the left eye, Gopal testified. The fatal gunshots were at close range, he said.
At the crime scene, police recovered a .22-caliber Ruger handgun and 10 shell casings. Gopal testified that Elizabeth was shot twice in the right eye, but didn't render an opinion as to why. He said Elizabeth's second gunshot wound was not at close range; the muzzle of the gun was as much as 24 inches away from her right eye, Gopal testified.
Ethan also suffered two wounds. He was shot in the right eye and had another gunshot wound to the right side of his abdomen, Gopal said. The injury to the boy's abdomen was from a "distance" gunshot wound, meaning the gun's muzzle was more than 2 feet away, Gopal said.
The second wound also appeared to be at death or right after death because the boy's "heart was not beating or functioning when this injury occurred," Gopal testified.
Because only 10 shell casings were found, Wesson's lawyers, Peter Jones and Ralph Torres, asked Gopal whether a bullet that had exited Sedona's head had caused the wound to Ethan's abdomen. Gopal said he could not confirm that assertion.
Sebhrenah's gunshot wound was different because the handgun's front gunsight left an impression to the left of her right eye. Gunsight impressions on the other victims appear to be near the top of their eyes, Gopal said.
The entry wound was to Sebhrenah's lower eyelid, but she also had a bruise on her upper eyelid, Gopal testified. Torres asked Gopal whether Sebhrenah got the bruise from "falling on the muzzle of gun" after she shot herself. Gopal nodded his head yes and said: "It can happen that way."