Fresno, Calif. -- Marcus Wesson was a domineering patriarch who controlled his children with beatings and sexual abuse and was responsible for the "slaughter of a whole generation of his family," a prosecutor told jurors in closing arguments at Wesson's multiple murder trial.
Wesson is charged in Fresno County Superior Court with nine counts of murder, and 14 counts of sexually abusing his daughters and nieces. All the victims - ranging in age from 1 to 25 - were his children, some whom he fathered with his own daughters. He has pleaded not guilty.
"They were exterminated, one after the other, with the gun jammed up against their eye socket," prosecutor Lisa Gamoian said Wednesday.
But defense attorneys said Wesson is not "perverted," or the "cool, calculated slayer," the prosecution described. He is a demanding father and a fundamentalist Christian who meted out daily prayer sessions and physical punishment - a strict regimen, but within the bounds of what's acceptable.
They blamed the deaths on the oldest victim - Sebhrenah Wesson, one of Wesson's daughters, whose child, fathered by Wesson, was also among the victims. Sebhrenah Wesson was "the quiet one" in a house full of happy, chatty, confident young women, said defense attorney Ralph Torres. She was the one who carried spent bullets and occasionally knives in her purse.
Torres argued that while the defendant was trying to reason with bickering family members, Sebhrenah killed the children. An hour or two later, with the arrival of police, she killed her sister Elizabeth, and finally, herself, with a single shot in the left eye.
Attorneys were expected to finish their closing arguments Thursday, and hand the case over to jurors.
The prosecutor never actually told jurors who did the killing.
"I can't tell you who fired the weapon," Gamoian said. "But I can tell you why."
She argued the murders were the outcome of a plan the defendant had long preached to his family - that they would kill each other if authorities ever tried to break apart the clan.
Police found the nine victims entwined in a bloody pile in a back bedroom of Wesson's home when they responded to a child custody dispute in March 2004.
Two of the mothers - Wesson's nieces who were raised in his household, and became pregnant by him - had returned to claim their children. Wesson refused, and police were called.
He kept authorities at the front door, then ducked into a back bedroom for more than an hour. When he emerged, his clothes were spattered with blood - Sebhrenah's blood, according to testimony. Police said the victims were stacked in a pile, youngest to oldest.
Gamoian told jurors Wesson can be found guilty of first-degree murder if evidence shows that he ordered his children to kill each other.
She cited diary passages from one of the witnesses - Kiani Wesson, one of Marcus Wesson's surviving daughters who had two children with her father, and continues to support him - to show the degree to which children raised in the household were indoctrinated by Marcus Wesson's "bastardization" of religion.
"We've lived for Christ, now we must die for Christ," Gamoian read from the entry dated about three months before the deaths.
Gamoian also pointed out for jurors patterns of sexual abuse in the home, as heard in court. Several of the young women told jurors Marcus Wesson started touching them at age 7 or 8, demanded oral copulation by age 12, and proceeded to full intercourse by the time the girls were 15.
His control over the young girls in the home was so complete that some of them, like Kiani Wesson, 27, testified she still believes there is nothing wrong with sexual contact between a father and daughter.
"In this family, he was Christ himself, the ultimate authority figure who determined life and death," Gamoian said. "But for his suicide pact, for his teachings, none of this would have happened."
The prosecution's case has relied heavily on circumstantial evidence - testimony from people who grew up in the Wesson household, several of whom testified about Wesson's teaching that it was better to die than to see the family broken up. Several of the witnesses also said there had been no rules, or an established plan, for how they would carry out the suicide pact.
No fingerprints were found on the murder weapon, and no gunshot residue was found on Wesson's hands or on the hands of any of the victims.