Plot nearly carried out in 1999, Wesson niece testifies.
Sofina Solorio nearly carried out Marcus Wesson‘s murder-suicide plan in 1999 after a white car repeatedly drove past the docked boat where they lived in Tomales Bay in Northern California, Solorio testified Thursday.
Solorio, Wesson’s niece, and Sebhrenah Wesson, his daughter, gathered nine children and had them sign suicide notes before they readied handguns and poised to kill the children and themselves, Solorio said during Wesson’s trial in Fresno County Superior Court.
But after family members prayed, they had second thoughts. Solorio’s sister, Rosa Solorio, and another Wesson daughter, Kiani, rowed a dinghy to shore to telephone Wesson.
Family members were relieved, Solorio said, when Wesson told them they didn’t have to carry out the plan.
Solorio’s recounting of the near tragedy came during her fourth day of testimony in Wesson’s mass murder trial. He is accused of killing nine of his children March 12 in the back bedroom of his central Fresno home. He is also charged with 14 counts of sexually abusing his daughters and nieces. Wesson, 58, has pleaded not guilty. The Fresno mass murder last year is similar to what nearly happened on Wesson’s boat in 1999, and Solorio said it began the same way: Family members believed authorities were about to split up the family.
“We thought they were undercover cops and that they would come on the boat,” Solorio said. “We said, ‘Let’s get ready. Let’s do it, kill our children and kill ourselves.'”
The defense lawyers Thursday tried to poke holes in Solorio’s murder-suicide account because Wesson’s children have told authorities that there was no such plan.
Under cross-examination, Solorio, 29, said Wesson never taught her how to use a gun, nor did she see him teaching his daughters or nieces how to fire one.
She also said it was her idea to write suicide letters on the boat that day in 1999 to protect Wesson from outsiders. Family members signed suicide letters that explained Wesson “had nothing to do with it. That it was their decision,” Solorio testified.
After Wesson learned of the incident on the boat, Solorio testified, he drove about two hours to get there. He was upset, saying he never ordered them to kill themselves.
So was the murder-suicide pact true? defense attorney Ralph Torres asked Solorio.
Yes, she said, explaining that Wesson and his nieces and daughters had made the pact several years before.
Solorio remained calm and sometimes smiled at Torres as she answered other questions about her testimony.
Much of Thursday was spent dissecting her account of what happened on March 12, when Wesson emerged from his Fresno home and police found nine of his children shot to death.
Among the dead was Jonathan, the 7-year-old son of Solorio and Wesson.
Solorio testified Thursday that as she drove to Wesson’s home to reclaim her son she thought it was possible the boy would be killed.
She testified Thursday that she heard two gunshots coming from the Wesson home soon after Wesson slipped inside. She was about five feet from the front door of the home when she heard, “a shot and then a shot.”
Torres, however, reminded Solorio that the next day she told Fresno Police detective Doug Reese in a tape-recorded interview that she didn’t hear gunfire.
Her account changed three days later when she told detective Michelle Ochoa that she heard two gunshots — “one right after the other, boom boom” — coming from the Wesson home.
Asked why her account changed, Solorio said, “I know in my heart I heard two gunshots.”
Whether shots were heard has been at issue in the trial.
Sgt. Pat Jackson and officer Frank Nelson told jurors earlier they didn’t hear gunshots.
But Solorio’s family members who went to the Wesson home with her have told authorities they heard gunfire. Wesson’s neighbors also have reported hearing gunshots during the standoff.
Torres and defense attorney Peter Jones contend Sebhrenah Wesson shot each of the children before killing herself.
Thursday, Torres had Solorio describe Sebhrenah Wesson’s obsession with guns. Solorio said Sebhrenah was her best friend and said no one else in Wesson’s family loved guns like Sebhrenah.
Marcus Wesson showed his children violent “Army movies,” Solorio testified, and Sebhrenah collected toy guns and “fake guns.”
Solorio said that when the family was living in the mountains near Santa Cruz, she and Sebhrenah Wesson would roam among the trees and pretend they were hunting.
Solorio’s testimony is crucial to prosecutor Lisa Gamoian’s bid to convict Wesson under the legal doctrine of aiding and abetting, which generally says a defendant is guilty of murder if he instigates, encourages or promotes the killings. If convicted, Wesson could get the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
Solorio will resume her testimony on Monday.
Bee staff writer Matt Leedy contributed to this report.
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