Judge R.L. Putnam rejected Marcus Wesson’s requests this morning for a new trial or a reduced sentence from the death penalty to life in prison.
Wesson, 58, could be formally sentenced to death by lethal injection this afternoon for slaying nine of his children inside his Fresno home on March 12, 2004. Fresno’s worst mass murderer also was found guilty of 14 counts of sexually abusing his daughter and nieces.
Wesson’s defense team argued that Putnam committed three errors when giving his instructions to jurors before they began deliberating.
In addition to rejecting that defense motion, Putnam summarized the viciousness of Wesson’s crimes and explained why he supports the jury’s death verdict.
He called Wesson’s control over his family a “mind numbing history of exploitation” that spanned 25 years. His rule was so complete, Putnam said, that Wesson dictated how his family members acted, how they dressed, how they were punished and ultimately how they died. Wesson’s power was derived from years of incest, sexual abuse and polygamy, Putnam concluded, and the daughters were turned into soldiers who dutifully carried out his orders.
Wesson contrived a plan that guaranteed his youngest children, who were products of incest, would not be taken away from the government. Instead, they would be killed and “go to the Lord.” This plan was in effect on March 12, 2004 when Wesson’s nieces, Sofina Solorio and Ruby Ortiz, tried to reclaim their children from him. Police arrived as a family fight escalated and told Wesson that Child Protective Services was headed to his central Fresno home at 761 W. Hammond Ave. because Wesson and his family were refusing to give Solorio and Ortiz their children. After an 80-minute standoff with police, Wesson emerged from the home wearing bloody clothes. Inside, officers found the nine bodies stacked in a corner of a rear bedroom and recovered Wesson’s .22-caliber Ruger pistol. The victims ranged in age from 1 to 25.
In finding Wesson guilty of nine counts of first-degree murder, the jury concluded that he didn’t pull the trigger, but aided and abetted in the slayings and/or was part of a murder conspiracy.
During the trial, Putnam, Gamoian and Wesson’s lawyers argued over the instructions jurors would receive before they began deliberations.
In a 17-page defense motion filed after the death verdict, lawyers Peter Jones and Garrick Byers said Putnam didn’t give a fair recitation of the law during jury instructions. The wrote that Putnam read an instruction to the jury that the prosecution wanted regarding conspiracy, but failed to read an additional conspiracy instruction requested by Wesson’s lawyers.
The extra instruction would have told jurors that if a conspirator commits an act “outside the scope of the conspiracy,” then the co-conspirator should not be held accountable, the motion says.
Defense lawyers contend there was sufficient evidence to suggest that Wesson’s daughter, Sebhrenah, fatally shot her eight siblings and then herself without any direction from her father.
That contention “goes to the heart of what our defense was,” Jones told Putnam this morning. “Clearly our position was that Mr. Wesson did not shoot anyone or order or direct anyone to shoot anyone.
“We believe in our defense,” Jones continued. “This is not a contrived defense. The evidence supports it.”
The lawyers contend Putnam committed another error when he read only the instruction of expressed malice second-degree murder. The defense wanted him to also read and instruction regarding implied malice second-degree murder.
If Putnam had read the implied malice instruction, jurors might have convicted Wesson of second-degree murder, which would have saved him from the death penalty, his lawyers said. Without the instructions requested by defense attorneys, jurors could not adequately weigh the law, Jones said.
The defense lawyers also complained that Putnam crafted his own instruction for the legal meaning of duress, instead of relying on the one outlined in the California Jury Instructions manual. The prosecution also wanted the standard instruction, the motion said. The duress instruction applied only to the sex charges.
After rejection the defense motion, Putnam listed the aggravating components of Wesson’s crimes. He said there was no doubt he initiated the killing with malice.
Putnam also cited Wesson’s past and unrelated convictions of perjury and welfare fraud. The judge said the only mitigating factors were the continual love of Wesson’s family members. The aggravating circumstances far outweighed the lone mitigating factor, Putnam said before supporting the jury’s June 29 death verdict.
Two alternate jurors attended this mornings hearing and said the decision by 12 jurors to sentence Wesson to death was validated by Putnam.
“He broke everything down,” fifth alternate Alex Flores said of Putnam. “It’s been a long process and it does give the jury its just due for all the hard work they’ve done.”
Christina Berard, another alternate juror, said she agreed with the jury’s death verdict. While listening to the evidence during trial, Berard was filled with “indignation for Wesson for taking the word of God and using it for his own gratification. It’s unforgivable.”
“I would like to see the death penalty,” she said. “What he did was very wrong.”
The alternate jurors said they’ll be back in court this afternoon for the formal sentencing. “That’s closure for us. We’ve done our civic duty,” said Flores, 33.
A jury’s verdict for a death sentence must be upheld by the trial judge, according to state law, unless the judge finds the verdict is contrary to the law or the evidence.
Wesson submitted a lengthy typed statement during this morning’s hearing. It was sealed and will not be considered during this afternoon’s sentencing.
If Wesson is formally sentenced to death this afternoon he will be sent to San Quentin State Prison in northern California and join about 620 convicts awaiting execution. There would be an automatic appeal process that could last decades.