As a boy, Marcus Wesson brought stray dogs home and cared for them. But he also liked to mate different types of dogs to create strange-looking puppies, a Fresno County Superior Court jury learned Thursday.
Jurors got a glimpse of Wesson's family — a homosexual, alcoholic father and a religious zealot mother — to help them determine whether he should be sentenced to life in prison or executed for killing nine of his children.
Deliberations will begin after closing arguments today.
Last week, Wesson, 58, was found guilty of nine counts of murder in the slayings of his children inside the family's central Fresno home on March 12, 2004. He also was convicted of 14 counts of rape, oral copulation and sexual abuse of a minor involving three of his daughters and four of his nieces.
Prosecutor Lisa Gamoian took less than a minute Thursday to present her case for the death penalty, submitting paperwork showing Wesson's prior criminal record — convictions for welfare fraud and perjury in 1990. Gamoian called no witnesses.
Wesson's lawyers, Peter Jones and Ralph Torres, also kept it brief, calling only Wesson's sister, Cheryl Penton, 56, of Washington state, and his friend, Gregory Bledsoe, 52, from the Bay Area, to the witness stand.
Their testimony took about an hour.
While Penton pleaded with the jury to spare her brother's life, Bledsoe's testimony centered on the homosexual activities of Wesson's father, Benjamin Wesson, who died April 1, 2004, three weeks after the slayings.
In stating the defense case, Jones told the jury of seven women and five men that the Wesson family "is a family of secrets. We won't hear all the secrets. We will just scratch the surface."
Marcus Wesson showed little emotion, other than shaking his head no when Bledsoe talked about Benjamin Wesson's homosexuality, and closing his eyes when his sister started her testimony.
"Open your eyes, Marc. I love you," Penton told her brother.
Penton said the Wesson family moved often — from Missouri to Kansas to Indiana to California to Washington. She said her father never held a steady job and drank a lot, causing him to be flirtatious around his children.
Family members became suspicious of Benjamin Wesson's lifestyle when he ran away with a teenage male relative to live in San Jose and later in Los Angeles. He was gone seven to 10 years before he returned to his family, Penton said.
Penton said her mother, Carrie Wesson, now 84, wanted to plead with the jury to spare her son's life, but she is too ill to travel from her home in Washington. She said her mother is a devout Seventh-day Adventist who attended church regularly and demanded daily Bible studies and prayer from her children.
Carrie Wesson also was strict, spanking her children with a belt, switch or electrical cord, Penton said.
Like her son, Carrie Wesson loves Jesus and writing.
Marcus Wesson has written three books about his life, Jesus, vampires and other topics, testimony in his trial revealed. His mother has been working on a book for 10 to 15 years about Revelations and the end of time, Penton said.
Her manuscript is handwritten and stored in several boxes, Penton said.
Carrie Wesson's religious influence was evident, Penton said, because her children's favorite pastime was playing church, with Marcus Wesson playing the preacher.
Penton said the Wesson family does not condone the killings and said her family would suffer if Marcus Wesson is executed. Trying to put her thoughts into words, Penton began to sob.
On cross-examination, Penton admitted she hadn't seen her brother for six or seven years before the killings. When she last saw them, Marcus Wesson's family was living in a tent in the Santa Cruz mountains, and his daughter, Kiani, and his nieces, Sofina Solorio and Ruby Ortiz, were caring for their babies.
Penton said she never inquired about the identity of the babies' father.
Bledsoe testified that he last spoke to Marcus Wesson about four or five years ago. He recalled growing up with the Wesson children and knowing about their father's relationship with the male relative.
Bledsoe also said Benjamin Wesson often made jokes by putting other people down and once gave him $50 to let him give Bledsoe oral sex.
The penalty phase was supposed to begin Wednesday but was delayed one day to give Judge R.L. Putnam time to investigate whether a juror had told her husband of the verdicts before they were officially announced in court.
After a closed hearing Thursday, Putnam said there was no evidence of jury misconduct.