FRESNO, Calif. – A jury decided Wednesday that Marcus Wesson (search), the domineering patriarch of a large clan he bred through incest, should get the death penalty for the murders of nine of his children.
Wesson, 58, was convicted earlier this month, more than a year after the bodies were found in a bloody pile at his home at the end of a police standoff.
All the victims — ages 1 to 25 — had been shot once in the eye. Wesson had fathered some of them with his own daughters and nieces.
Prosecutors said he had the children killed for fear authorities were about to break up the clan and take the youngsters away. The standoff began after two Wesson nieces who had escaped from the home went back to try to get their children.
His lawyer contended Wesson's eldest daughter shot the others, then committed suicide.
As Wesson waited for the verdict Wednesday, he kept his back turned to his many family members gathered in the gallery. The man with dreadlocks to his knees occasionally ran his fingers up and down the long table he shared with attorneys, as if playing a piano.
In pleading for a life sentence, defense attorney Pete Jones said executing Wesson would not "undo the harm done." He also noted that the jury, in its guilty verdict, found that the prosecution failed to prove Wesson pulled the trigger.
But prosecutor Lisa Gamoian (search) said that does not matter because Wesson orchestrated the killings. She said he was a "master manipulator" whose sexual, financial and emotional exploitation of his children culminated in their slayings.
Also Wednesday, jurors spoke publicly for the first time, saying at a news conference that they were relieved to see the end of the emotionally draining case, which pushed some of them to tears and gave others nightmares.
"People wrestled with their emotion," said juror No. 8, a slender middle-aged woman. "People had to wrestle with their spirituality and their faith. It'll stay with us forever."
The jurors did not give their names, professions or other identifying information.
Besides the murder counts, Wesson was convicted on 14 counts of sexual abuse, including the rape of some of his underage daughters.
The defense largely conceded the sex charges, since DNA tests showed Wesson fathered the victims. But they had argued that Wesson's daughter Sebhrenah killed the others, then turned the gun on herself, carrying out a detailed murder-suicide pact devised by her father years earlier.
According to testimony at his trial, Wesson often asked his children if they were ready to "go to the Lord." Witnesses said he preached a plan that if authorities ever tried to break up the clan, they were to kill each other, youngest to oldest.
Formal sentencing was set July 27. Fresno County Judge R. L. Putnam (search) will also sentence Wesson on the sexual assault convictions that day.
Outside court, Jones said he was "extremely disappointed" with the verdict.
"I've gotten to know Marcus Wesson over the last year. I've spent a lot of time with him in isolation," Jones said. "In spite of what the perception might be, we've developed a good relationship."
Police responded to Wesson's home the day of killings for a child-custody dispute.
Two mothers of Wesson's children — nieces who were raised in his household, and became pregnant by him — had returned to claim their kids. Wesson refused and kept authorities at the front door before ducking into a back bedroom.
He emerged about an hour later with blood spattered on his clothes.