FRESNO, Calif. – Marcus Wesson's (search) fate is in the hands of jurors who already convicted him of murdering nine of his children and now must decide whether he should be sentenced to death for the crimes.
Deliberations in the penalty phase of Wesson's trial began Monday after his defense attorney gave a final plea to save his client's life.
If sentencing Wesson to die by lethal injection could "undo the harm done," attorney Pete Jones told the jurors Monday, "your job would be simple."
But nothing can relieve the suffering this family and the community has endured, Jones said, asking the jurors in Fresno County Superior Court (search) to consider all the good they've learned about Wesson during the four-month trial, in addition to all the bad.
The same jurors found Wesson guilty earlier this month of killing nine of his own children — seven boys and girls ages one to nine, one 17-year-old teenage girl, and one 25-year-old woman. They also found him guilty of 14 counts of sexually abusing his daughters and nieces. Several of the victims were children he fathered with his young daughters.
On Friday, prosecutor Lisa Gamoian asked the jury to sentence Wesson to death, calling him a "master manipulator" whose sexual, financial and emotional exploitation of his children culminated in their execution.
Jones reminded the jury of the picture painted by Wesson's sister Cheryl Penton. She described a harsh childhood with an unstable, alcoholic father who held odd jobs and was seldom a part of his children's lives. She described Wesson as a child who stuttered, and who brought home and nursed to health stray animals he found in the streets.
As a boy, Wesson liked to play church with his siblings, and often took the role of preacher, Penton said. She told jurors last week she prized her relationship with her brother, her voice breaking as she asked them to spare his life.
Jones also asked jurors to carefully consider whether they did not have some lingering doubt about Wesson's direct involvement in the March 2004 murders, returning to a key point made during the defense.
A forensic pathologist testified he believed the seven youngest victims could have died one to two hours before the two oldest ones. This could mean they died before Wesson entered the back bedroom where their bodies were found, Jones said.
"The trial process is a process of discovering and eliminating doubt," Jones said. "If you look at the evidence presented in this trial over and over, I submit, you will always return to doubt."
To qualify Wesson for the death penalty, the jurors had to find him guilty of at least two first-degree murders. During the guilt phase, they found Wesson guilty of all nine murder counts.
The confrontation that preceded the murders started when two of Wesson's nieces — young women the defendant had raised — returned to the Wesson home to claim the children they had as a result of the sexual abuse they suffered at the defendant's hands.
When Wesson did not turn the children over, even though the mothers had their birth certificates in hand, the police were called. Officers then unsuccessfully tried to talk Wesson into surrendering the children. The 1 1/2-hour standoff ended when Wesson emerged with the blood of some of his children splattered on his clothes.