FRESNO, Calif. (AP) – Marcus Wesson was sentenced to death Wednesday for the murder of nine of his children, many of whom were born of incest and sexual abuse.
“Marcus Delon Wesson, it is the judgment and sentence of this court that you shall suffer the death penalty,” Judge R.L. Putnam said after lengthy and very moving testimony from several members of Wesson’s family.
Jurors recommended the death penalty for Wesson on June 29, after convicting him of nine counts of first-degree murder. They also found Wesson guilty of sexually abusing his daughters and nieces.
California law says the trial judge must uphold a jury’s verdict unless it conflicts with the law or the evidence. The judge earlier Wednesday had said the evidence presented in the case supported the jury’s recommendation of death.
Putnam also sentenced Wesson to a combined 102 years in prison for 14 counts of sexually abusing his daughters, and the nieces who grew up in his household. The two young women who had escaped the Wesson home and were trying to reclaim the children they had with the defendant as a result of sexual abuse spoke about how much they missed their kids.
“Those were not children who belonged to you,” said Sophina Solorio, whose son Jonathan died in Wesson’s home on March 12, 2004, along with six other children, a teenager and a 25-year-old woman. “It was not your decision to take them away from this world.”
But several of Wesson’s surviving children and his wife, Elizabeth Wesson, declared their undying love and support for the man the judge said had such control over his family that “they did his bidding until their death.”
Daughter Kiani Wesson, who had testified that there’s nothing wrong with sexual contact between a father and daughter, defended her father even though the two children she had with the defendant were killed in the massacre.
She blamed the deaths on her cousins and their demands to get their children away from the household.
“I am proud of all my family, of the way we were raised,” she said, her voice breaking as she faced the judge.
Putnam said months of testimony showed the defendant’s “mind-numbing history of domination, exploitation and control” of his children.
Wesson’s attorneys had filed a motion asking the judge to grant their client a new trial, or reduce his sentence to life in prison, both of which were declined.
They said in court documents the judge made mistakes in instructing the jurors. Other instructions might have led the jury to find Wesson’s actions did not qualify him for the death penalty.
There also is “reasonable doubt” the oldest victim, Sebhrenah Wesson, pulled the trigger, killing her siblings then herself of her “own free will,” and not as part of a conspiracy involving the defendant, defense attorney Pete Jones said.
To qualify Wesson for the death penalty, the jurors had to convict him of at least two first-degree murders.
Prosecutor Lisa Gamoian said whether Wesson pulled the trigger, or if Sebhrenah Wesson did the job for him, the young woman’s upbringing – a sad story of sexual abuse, harsh physical punishment and deprivation – prevented her from acting independently of the defendant, who was her father, her husband and the man she believed was her connection to God.
Wesson dominated his large clan, bred through incest over generations, Gamoian said.
He preached to them and limited their access to education and the outside world until he had complete financial, physical and emotional control over their lives, she said.
Part of those teachings involved choosing death over police interference with the family, Gamoian said.
The conflict began after two of Wesson’s nieces escaped from the home went back to try to get the children they had with the defendant through sexual abuse. He resisted, and the police were called. A standoff ensued, with Wesson ducking into a back bedroom of the home, and police negotiating with him from the outside.
Eventually, he walked out, spattered with blood. Police found nine dead bodies.
The judge said he determined Wesson used fear and his position within the family to achieve control.
During the penalty phase of the trial, Wesson’s defense called his sister, Cheryl Penton, to tell jurors about the defendant’s childhood with an alcoholic father who moved the family several times.
The judge said that “continued love of him by some family members” was the only mitigating factor he could find.
Jurors who attended Wednesday’s hearing said they felt vindicated by the judge’s ruling.
“It was hard – we had a lot of sleepless nights,” juror Alex Florez said. “It was a lot of work, but this is closure for us – to feel we’ve done our civic duty.”