Marcus Wesson acted as a peacemaker, trying to soothe tempers among two families embroiled in a child custody dispute, Wesson's niece told a Fresno jury Tuesday.
It was a fight that ended with nine children being killed a year ago.
Rosa Solorio, on cross examination by Wesson's lawyers, gave a different view of a man accused of Fresno's worst mass murder.
She testified that Wesson said the dispute was "a kidnapping" because Solorio's sisters, Sofina Solorio and Ruby Ortiz, had come to the Wesson home unannounced to reclaim the children.
Years ago, Sofina Solorio and Ortiz had given the children to Wesson to raise, Rosa Solorio told jurors in Fresno County Superior Court. Wesson also agreed to return the children to their mothers if both sides worked out the dispute, Rosa Solorio testified.
But Rosa Solorio said she and others in the Wesson household didn't agree with Wesson and continued to insist that the children remain in the Wesson household.
Though Rosa Solorio testified that she never heard gunshots, she knew something terrible had happened when a pale Elizabeth Wesson emerged from the home and said: "They're all gone."
Rosa Solorio testified that she later learned nine children were killed inside Wesson's home. Among the dead were Rosa Solorio's son, Ethan, 4, and daughter, Sedona, 1. Wesson was the father of her two children, Solorio said.
Wesson, 58, is charged with killing nine of his children inside his Fresno home on March 12, 2004. He also is accused of sexually abusing his daughters and nieces.
Wesson has pleaded not guilty.
For four days, Rosa Solorio has testified about her life with Wesson, the killings and Wesson's belief in God.
Prosecutor Lisa Gamoian contends Wesson used the Bible and his religion to control family and allegedly form a murder-suicide pact with his daughters and nieces.
The alleged pact called for the older children to kill the younger ones and then themselves if authorities came to split up the family.
Wesson's lawyers, Ralph Torres and Peter Jones, however, contend Wesson's daughter, Sebhrenah, 25, of her own free will -- not on orders from Wesson -- fatally shot the children and then committed suicide.
On cross examination, Rosa Solorio said she knew Sebhrenah was fascinated with guns and knives and that she carried bullets in her purse. Solorio also said she would not have put her son in the same room with Sebhrenah if she knew Sebhrenah had a gun.
On that fateful day, Rosa Solorio said, there was no murder-suicide pact. She said the last time Wesson made reference to "going to the Lord," or the alleged murder-suicide pact, was in the late 1990s.
Around 1999, Rosa Solorio recalled, the family was living on a boat in Tomales Bay in northern California. While Wesson was away, Rosa Solorio testified, her older sister, Sofina, got worried when she saw a white vehicle repeatedly passing by the boat.
Rosa Solorio testified that she and others wrote suicide notes to ensure Wesson wasn't to blame if the family carried out the murder-suicide plan. But she also told jurors that the plan was "just talk" and no one on the boat took it seriously.
Rosa Solorio, who grew up in the Wesson household along with her six siblings, explained the family's deep religious beliefs. She said Wesson, as well his household, were raised Seventh Day Adventist.
She said the religion teaches them about the second coming of Christ, or the end of the world. She said Wesson had strong beliefs in the end of the world, as did the pastor at the church she attended.
Rosa Solorio said God speaks through Wesson and others. She also said a big influence in her life is Ellen G. White, whom she described as a modern day Seventh Day Adventist prophet.
Solorio's testimony resumes after the noon break.