FRESNO, Calif. – A man charged with killing nine of his children, allegedly fathered through polygamy and incest, planned a mass suicide as early as 1995 if authorities came to take his family away, two police detectives testified Thursday.
One of Marcus Wesson's (search) surviving daughters said that under the plan, "the older ones would kill the children and would commit suicide," according to Carlos Leal, a Fresno homicide detective who interviewed the 20-year-old woman.
"He would ask them, 'If the time came, would they be ready to die for the Lord?"' Leal said, testifying during a hearing to determine whether the murder case against Wesson should go to trial.
Richard Byrd, a detective who interviewed an adult niece of Wesson's, testified that she said Wesson planned to send girls in the household out to kill relatives who had left the house when it was time for the mass suicide.
Two other police officers Thursday bolstered claims that at least some of the victims were alive March 12 when police arrived at Wesson's home.
Neither officer heard the gunshots some neighbors claim to have heard, but one officer said he heard a baby crying while he talked to Wesson, and the other said some of the bodies were still warm when they were found piled one atop the other, entangled in bloody clothes. Wesson was arrested after emerging from the house with blood on his clothes.
Wesson, 57, has pleaded innocent to charges he murdered a 25-year-old woman and eight of his children ranging in age from 1 to 17. Police said the woman, who was Wesson's daughter, also was the mother of one of the slain children.
He is being held on $9 million bail. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Fresno police have not disclosed a motive for the murders, but said Wesson engaged in incest and polygamy. Officers were called to the scene after several of the children's mothers complained they were unable to take their children from him.
Before the start of his preliminary hearing Thursday, Wesson pleaded innocent to 33 additional charges of sexual abuse dating back as far as 1988.
The new accusations against Wesson include multiple charges of continuous sexual abuse and forcible rape against females who lived with him, but the documents do not specify whether they were family members. Five of the six victims were under 14 when the attacks occurred.
Leal said the daughter who spoke of mass suicide claimed Wesson began molesting her and her sisters when they were as young as 5.
According to Byrd, the niece said Wesson claimed to be Jesus Christ and wanted to emulate David Koresh (search), who died with nearly 80 followers of his Branch Davidian (search) cult in a fire during a 1993 confrontation with federal agents outside Waco, Texas.
Authorities continue to be concerned about the hold Wesson may still have on his family. He has been barred from making phone calls or receiving visitors in jail since a relative told police he might order family members to kill themselves.
One of the first officers at the scene of the killings, Frank Nelson, testified that he heard a baby crying when he talked to Wesson. Wesson went to a back bedroom of the house while Nelson was distracted, and Nelson called for additional officers when two mothers outside told him, "He's going to hurt the kids."
Nelson called for a SWAT team when a man who identified himself as Wesson's nephew also told officers Wesson might harm the children and was armed with a .22-caliber gun.
"He told me that his uncle was like that guy from Waco, that he has multiple wives," Nelson said. "He told me that his uncle would probably kill them before he let anyone take them."
Wesson surrendered a short time after the SWAT team was called.
Police have not said when the victims were killed, but coroner's reports indicate they died within moments of being shot.
Fresno police officer Eloy Escareno testified that he was the first officer to see the bodies.
"As I was checking the pulses, I began to cry because I wasn't finding any," Escareno said. "I noticed that several of the bodies were still warm."
The preliminary hearing is expected to last several days.
Public defender Pete Jones urged the judge to postpone the hearing, claiming that his office could not be effective because it had yet to receive all the new evidence. Judge Lawrence Jones ordered the hearing to continue.