Fresno, Calif. (AP) – A judge ruled Monday that there is sufficient evidence for Marcus Wesson to stand trial on charges he murdered nine of his children.
Judge Lawrence Jones’ ruling came during a preliminary hearing that began last week. Wesson, 57, has pleaded innocent to charges he murdered his 25-year-old daughter and eight of his other children ranging in age from 1 to 17. However, his attorneys suggested Monday that the case was a murder-suicide in which the suspect’s oldest daughter shot her siblings before turning the gun on herself.
“The evidence is woefully slim that points to Mr. Wesson as the shooter,” defense attorney Pete Jones told the judge in arguing for a dismissal of the charges.
Wesson will also stand trial on 13 charges of sexual abuse dating to 1988, the judge ruled. The abuse accusations include multiple charges of continuous sexual abuse and forcible rape against females who lived with him, including family members. Five of the six victims were under 14 when the attacks occurred.
Wesson had initially faced 33 sexual abuse charges, which he pleaded innocent to, but the judge on Monday allowed prosecutors to amend the complaint, dropping 20 of the sexual abuse charges by combining some with others.
Wesson’s attorneys called the sexual abuse charges “vague” and plagued with “jurisdiction” problems.
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Police said Wesson engaged in a lifestyle of incest and polygamy, fathering children with his own daughters and nieces. They say Wesson held total control over his family and likened himself to God.
Testimony by police related tales of Wesson’s alleged fascination with David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian cult who died in a deadly 1993 confrontation with federal agents in Texas, and of a suicide plan devised by Wesson in which his children would kill each other – oldest to youngest – should authorities ever try to break apart the family.
Jones asked the judge for a dismissal of the charges Monday, claiming prosecutors had not proven that Wesson pulled the trigger or ordered others to do so.
Police were initially called to Wesson’s west Fresno home on March 12 when two women claiming to be the mothers of children inside came to retrieve their kids.
After Wesson emerged from the home with blood on his clothes, police found a pile of bodies entangled in bloody clothes in a back bedroom. Each of the nine victims was shot once in the eye and, according to coroner’s reports, died almost instantaneously.
Police testified that officers found a .22-caliber gun and a hunting knife with a 5-inch blade under 25-year-old Sebhrenah Wesson’s body, the eldest daughter. Her body was also positioned slightly to the side of the pile of other victims, police testified.
Authorities have conducted gunpowder residue tests on some of the victims’ hands but no physical evidence against Wesson has yet been made public. Defense attorneys said Monday they had also not yet received the results of the gunpowder tests.
“The evidence has not demonstrated that Marcus Wesson shot and killed anyone or ordered the killing of anyone,” Jones told the judge.
“The gun was found under Sebhrenah … The wound that was inflicted to Sebhrenah could easily have been self-inflicted,” Jones added, pointing to police testimony that the bullet entered Sebhrenah Wesson’s eye in an upward direction.
“Sebhrenah fell on the gun after shooting herself,” Jones said.
Sofina Solorio, one of Wesson’s nieces with whom he had fathered a child, told officers that while police and family members waited outside the home, “she could see Sebhrenah … digging in a leather bag … it might have been the same leather bag where Marcus Wesson keeps his firearms,” Detective Michele Ochoa testified Monday.
Solorio was one of the two women who came to the home to get her child.
“Just because Sebhrenah was looking in a bag that contained guns that belonged to Mr. Wesson doesn’t mean she pulled the trigger,” Prosecutor Lisa Gamoian told the judge. “It was only Mr. Wesson who exited the bedroom.”
Police said Wesson had convinced his own daughters that fathering his children is what God would want. He also would ask their permission before sexually abusing them, police said.
“What Mr. Wesson was doing over many, many years was grooming sexual assault victims,” Gamoian said.
Kiani Wesson, one of Marcus Wesson’s daughters with whom he fathered two children, defended her father and blamed the killings on Sofina Solorio and the other woman who came that day to retrieve her children from the home.
“He’s a good father,” Kiani Wesson said outside of court. “I don’t know who pulled the trigger, but it’s their fault.” Both of Kiani Wesson’s children were among the victims, police said.
“We all had choices and did what we wanted … Nothing was ever forced upon us,” Kiani Wesson said.
Wesson is held without bail. He is due back in court April 27. A trial date has not been set. If convicted on the murder charges, he could face the death penalty.