The prosecution’s witness list includes at least five experts, including some who will testify about mind control, said Wesson’s attorney, Peter Jones, who added that he may not be ready for the scheduled Jan. 25 trial because he’s unsure what the psychologists and psychiatrists will say on the stand.
“I have no idea where [prosecutors] would go with thisó with mind control,” Jones said during a pretrial hearing Tuesday. He explained that he might not be ready to rebut their psychological testimony.
The inclusion of mind-control experts on a list of prosecution witnesses sheds some light on a possible strategy for convicting Wesson, who is accused of killing nine of his children March 12, 2004, and also faces more than a dozen sex charges.
Wesson’s home near Roeding Park was the site of Fresno’s worst mass murder. The victims were found dead and stacked in a bedroom. Jones, a public defender, has said Wesson’s 25-year-old daughter shot her eight siblings, ranging in age from 17 to 1, before killing herself. No gunshot residue was found on Wesson, and Jones has said there is evidence that the 25-year-old was the last to die. She was found on top of the stacked bodies.
Prosecutor Lisa Gamoian has not talked about the case publicly outside of court. But the mind-control experts on her witness list show her plan could be to prove that Wesson ordered the murders.
At a preliminary hearing last April, Gamoian’s police witnesses painted Wesson as a man who dominated his family and imposed a murder-suicide pact.
On Dec. 1, Jones was given a list of witnesses who could testify against Wesson. The names include Park Dietz, Kris Mohandie, J. Reid Meloy, Susan Napolitano and Randall Robinson, according to a document posted on a Fresno County Superior Court Web site.
Dietz is listed as a medical doctor, and the other four have doctorate degrees, according to the court document, in which Jones asks prosecutors to reveal what roles they will play in the trial.
Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist, testified for the prosecution in the trial of Jeffrey Dahmer and determined that the mass murderer from Milwaukee was not insane when he killed 17 men and boys.
Dietz also concluded that David Berkowitz was sane. The “Son of Sam” killed six young people and wounded seven more, terrorizing New York City in the late 1970s.
Dietz was a prosecution witness in the trials of homicidal mothers Andrea Yates and Susan Smith, as well as Cary Stayner, who was convicted of killing three Yosemite National Park tourists.
Mohandie testified against Supawan Veerapol, a former restaurant owner convicted of illegally bringing Thai women to the United States to work in slavelike conditions.
Mohandie told jurors that the women continued working for the affluent wife of a Thai diplomat because they feared repercussions, including the threat of turning them over to U.S. authorities and retaliation against their families.
She’s also worked as a psychologist for the Los Angeles Police Department.
J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist in San Diego, wrote “Violent Attachments.” He’s said that when domestic disputes become homicides or suicides, drugs, alcohol and accessible weapons often play a role. He’s also said that perpetrators often suffer from severe personality disorders, such as paranoia, depression or narcissism.
Police were called to Wesson’s home for a domestic dispute on March 12. After an 80-minute standoff, Wesson was arrested, and officers found the bodies in his home.
Robinson and Napolitano are local psychologists. Napolitano is a past president of the San Joaquin Psychological Association.
During Tuesday’s hearing in Fresno County Superior Court, Jones said he expects at least some of the witnesses “to show mind control.”
Gamoian appeared to be laying the groundwork for such a strategy at the preliminary hearing in April.
Her witnesses, most of them police investigators, testified that Wesson preached both Bible lessons and murder-suicide.
Wesson meant for the deadly pact to be triggered if police or employees with Child Protective Servicesó people he called devilsó attempted to break up his family, she has said.
The day of the murders, two of Wesson’s nieces went to his house to reclaim their children, according to preliminary hearing testimony. There was talk of CPS being called to the scene.
Gamoian said Wesson’s children lived in an insular world, which he claimed to rule as Christ and was filled with sexual abuse.
A similar strategy was used three decades ago to convict Charles Manson of murdering seven people.
Even if Wesson did not fire the fatal shots, former Los Angeles County prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi has said, the 58-year-old could be convicted of the murders if Gamoian can show he was a father so domineering his order could lead one daughter to kill her siblings and herself.
Bugliosi became one of the country’s most recognized lawyers when he won the first-degree murder convictions of Manson and three of his female followers.
Bugliosi couldn’t show that Manson stabbed or shot any of the victims, and didn’t even place him at the crime scenes, but jurors found him guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and seven counts of first-degree murder.
At Wesson’s pretrial hearing Tuesday, attorneys also discussed a 20-page jury questionnaire.
Jones said he wants potential jurors to be questioned about their religious affiliation. He explained that religion ó particularly that of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and fundamental Mormonism ó could play an important role in the trial.
Jones would not elaborate outside the courtroom, but Wesson and his family have been linked to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He’s also been accused of polygamy and incest.
Wesson’s mother, Carrie Wesson, has said her son is the product of a hardworking parents who gave him a solid foundation in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He retained a link with the church during the 1980s and 1990s, attending 10-day spiritual retreats in Soquel with his family.
Two of the murder victims were mourned in a Seventh-day Adventist Church in Clovis.
Gamoian objected to potential jurors being asked the religion question, but Judge R.L. Putnam said it will stay in the questionnaire unless she can show a legal reason why it should be excluded.
Early in the case, the District Attorney’s Office declared it will seek the death penalty, and Jones also wants potential jurors to explain what crimes they believe should bring capital punishment.
Jones wants to know whether jurors believe multiple premeditated murders or the killing of a child warrants execution. Jones said he hopes to eliminate people from the jury pool who would automatically impose the death penalty if Wesson is convicted.
Capital punishment is not a mandatory sentence.
Although Jones said he might not be ready for jury selection to begin Jan. 25, the trial date remained after Tuesday’s hearing. Another hearing is scheduled for next week.