Marcus Wesson and his family lived on an decrepit tugboat moored in Tomales Bay and kept to themselves, his neighbors in the northern California town of Marshall told a Fresno jury this morning.
If the family came to town, Marcus Wesson would do all the talking, while his daughters and nieces stood silently behind him, the neighbors testified in Fresno County Superior Court.
Because of the hazardous conditions, the family was evicted from their boat in about October 2003, testimony revealed. Months later, nine of them would be shot to death during a child-custody battle at the Wesson home in Fresno.
Marcus Wesson, 58, is charged with killing nine of his children on March 12, 2004. He also is accused of sexually abusing his daughters and nieces.
Wesson has pleaded not guilty. Testimony has revealed that Wesson was the father of the slain victims. The mothers include his wife, Elizabeth, daughters Kiani and Sebhrenah, and nieces Rosa and Sofina Solorio and Ruby Ortiz.
This morning, prosecutor Lisa Gamoian called former neighbors of Wesson while the family lived in San Jose, Marshall and Fresno. The neighbors described him as a strict man who isolated family members and ruled over them, using his religious beliefs to justify his behavior.
San Jose neighbor Judy Hardin, 43, testified that Wesson’s children never interacted with other neighborhood children and were always quiet. “They were like little robots, programmed and manipulated,” she told jurors in Judge R.L. Putnam’s courtroom.
Hardin recalled being 11 or 12 years old when she heard Wesson beating his children while his wife said, “Too hard, Marcus.”
Hardin said Wesson told her that she didn’t have to like him, but she “must respect him.” She also said she heard Wesson use the Bible to support his belief that he could have many wives.
“It was just twisted the way he would say men are kings of the household,” said Hardin, describing herself as Southern Baptist. “I thought it was looney.”
Patrina Mole, who worked with Kiani, Sebhrenah, Sofina, Rosa and Ruby at the Marconi Conference Center in Marshall, testified that the women told her about the family’s religious belief that the world would end in the year 2000.
Mole recalled that in late 1999, the women told her that they were going to be baptized in a Seventh-day Adventist Church so they would be prepared for the event.
Mole testified the women were quiet, but told funny stories.
One story was about how the family purchased coffins for the family school bus, Mole said. The women told her that they were going to take out the bus seats and use the coffins as storage areas and to sit on.
Mole also recalled that the women told her that they were all married to the same man, but didn’t identify their husband by name.
Another Marshall resident, Christopher Rainsford recalled that the women always walked behind Marcus Wesson and that they used a small boat to row him from the family tugboat to shore and back.
Rainsford said the Wessons seldom were seen during the day and worked mostly at night. “I thought they were vampires because they only came out when it was dark,” he said.
Fresno neighbor Dave Evanoff also recalled that Wesson liked to work on the family’s school bus at night. Because it was dark, Evanoff said, he saw two “small figures” hold flashlights to allow Wesson to work.
Fresno neighbors Doreen Sanchez, Connie Howard and Barbara Alec said the Wesson household was always quiet. They said they never or seldom saw any of the young children playing in the front yard.
Sanchez, Howard, Alec also testified they heard two gunshots on the day the nine victims were shot to death.
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