Preliminary hearing continues in Fresno mass murder case

Defense attorneys for a man accused of killing nine of his children suggested Monday that the case was a murder-suicide in which the suspect’s oldest daughter shot her siblings before turning the gun on herself.

Continuing a preliminary hearing that began Thursday, a lawyer for Marcus Wesson pointedly asked a Fresno homicide detective about the “suicide pact” police have alleged Wesson had with his children. As part of the alleged plan, the children would kill each other — oldest to youngest — should authorities ever try to break apart the family.

Detective Michele Ochoa testified that, according to her interview with Sofina Solorio, one of Wesson’s nieces with whom he had fathered a child, the suicide plan was referred to within the family as a “religious belief.”

“Did Sofina tell you it was possible in this teaching that one of the children, like (the oldest daughter) Sebhrenah, could also kill them?” defense attorney Ralph Torres asked.

“No,” Ochoa said.

In earlier testimony, however, Ochoa said Sofina Solorio told her she was forced from the home by family members, including Sebhrenah Wesson, on the night of the March 12 killings and was not allowed to take her child. Solorio also said she watched as the children were rounded up and placed in the back bedroom where they were later found dead, Ochoa said.

Sofina Solorio, whose child was among the victims, told officers that while police and family members waited outside the home, “she could see Sebhrenah … digging in a leather bag … it might have been the same leather bag where Marcus Wesson keeps his firearms,” Ochoa said.

Wesson, 57, has pleaded innocent to charges he murdered his 25-year-old daughter and eight of his other children ranging in age from 1 to 17. Wesson has also pleaded innocent to 33 additional charges of sexual abuse.

The abuse accusations include multiple charges of continuous sexual assault and forcible rape against females who lived with him. Police have said Wesson engaged in a lifestyle of incest and polygamy, fathering children with his own daughters and nieces.

Wesson’s attorneys claim their client did not pull the trigger of the gun used in the slayings and therefore should not be tried on murder charges that include allegations he “personally used a firearm” in committing the crimes.

Police were initially called to Wesson’s west Fresno home when two women claiming to be the mothers of children, one of them identified as Sofina Solorio, came to retrieve their kids. After Wesson emerged with blood on his clothes, police inside found a pile of bodies entangled in bloody clothes. Each of the nine victims was shot once in the eye and, according to coroner’s reports, died almost instantaneously.

Police testified that officers found a .22-caliber gun and a hunting knife with a 5-inch blade under the eldest daughter’s body, which was positioned slightly to the side of the pile of other victims.

Authorities have conducted gunpowder residue tests on some of the victims’ hands but no physical evidence against Wesson has yet been made public.

Police allege that Wesson held total control over his family and likened himself to God. Testimony by police last week related tales of Wesson’s alleged fascination with David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian cult who died in a deadly 1993 confrontation with federal agents in Texas.

Ochoa testified Monday that Sofina Solorio told her Wesson stabbed her in the chest a few years ago while they sat talking in a car on the coast. Ochoa said Solorio told Wesson she was ready to confess her sins, adding that after Sofina was stabbed “she said she wasn’t ready to die.”

Several of Wesson’s adult children were expected to be called as witnesses later in the day Monday.

“He’s a good father,” Kiani Wesson, one of Wesson’s daughters with whom he fathered a child, said outside court as she waited to be called as a witness. Her child was among the victims.

Kiani blamed the killings on Sofina Solorio and another woman who came that day to retrieve her children from the home.

“I don’t know who pulled the trigger, but it’s their fault,” Kiani said.

Wesson is held without bail. If convicted on the murder charges, he could face the death penalty.

If the judge finds after the preliminary hearing there is not enough evidence to show Wesson pulled the trigger, he could dismiss the charges. Prosecutors would then have to amend the counts if they wanted to seek to try Wesson on other charges, such as conspiracy.

Associated Press Writer Juliana Barbassa contributed to this report.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Associated Press, USA
Apr. 12, 2004
Brian Skoloff, Associated Press Writer

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday April 13, 2004.
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