SAN RAFAEL, Calif. – Joseph Naso, serving as his own attorney in his trial for the decades-old killings of four women, used his opening statement to give jurors a thorough personal history, replete with childhood photos, saying he is not the "monster" prosecutors have made him out to be.
The 79-year-old defendant's opening statement Monday came after prosecutors spent the morning showing graphic images of the four women's bodies discovered in Northern California, leading some jurors to wipe away tears.
Naso, wearing a dark suit and spectacles, rose after Marin County prosecutor Rosemary Slote had called him a "serial rapist and murderer."
"I've been waiting two years and two months for this day, to tell my side of the story," Naso told the panel.
"I'm not the monster they say killed these women," he said. "I don't kill people and there's no evidence of that in my writings and photography."
Naso has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances for the slayings of four women — all prostitutes with the same first and last initials: 18-year-old Roxene Roggasch in 1977; 22-year-old Carmen Colon in 1978; 38-year-old Pamela Parsons in 1993; and 31-year-old Tracy Tafoya in 1994.
Whether the "double initials" in each victim's name was a coincidence or a plan, investigators have not said. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty and were expected to start calling witnesses Tuesday.
Prosecutors say Naso drugged and photographed his unconscious victims, then strangled them and dumped their naked bodies in rural areas.
Slote read from sections of a diary found at Naso's home that detailed rapes of women.
In a 1961 entry, the journal describes a man picking a girl up and raping her in a car in the Berkeley Hills. Other entries made vague references to victims in this case.
Naso was arrested at the time on suspicion of assault, but he said he was never charged. Prosecutors say the woman named in that entry will testify about the incident.
Authorities around the country have also looked at Naso as a suspect in cold cases.
Marin County prosecutors have built a significant case against Naso.
Investigators discovered DNA matching Naso's profile on at least one victim, Roggasch, and a partial DNA match from material collected from under the fingernails of Colon.
Naso said he plans to challenge that, saying the DNA is inconclusive.
Also discovered were photographs — including images of at least one of the victims in the case — of women who appeared dead or unconscious and what prosecutors called a "rape journal" during a search of Naso's Reno, Nev., house.
Naso characterized the photographs as his art and said all of his "models" were willing participants.
He showed the jury dozens of photographs he took of weddings, landscapes and family members along with what he called "glamour" or "cheesecake" photographs of nude women. He said he never forced any of them to do anything.
But prosecutors say Naso kept a list of his victims, and mementos of his alleged killings.
Near the pile of photos in Naso's home — with mannequin parts and women's lingerie strewn about — investigators said they also found a "List of 10" he had scrawled with descriptions of 10 women, including four references prosecutors believe describe the slaying victims in this case.
Slote also said she believed investigators had identified a fifth woman on the list: No. 8, "Girl in Woodland (Nevada County)." Slote said she believed No. 8 is a reference to a missing girl named Sara Dylan.
Dylan's passport was found in Naso's safe deposit box, along with news clippings covering the slayings of Parsons and Tafoya, which Naso had laminated with photographs he had taken of each woman, and $152,400 in cash.
Naso told the jury that he had collected obituaries "ever since I was a boy."
A skull found in Nevada County held DNA matching Dylan's mother's profile, Slote said.
Naso is not charged with Dylan's murder, but the jury heard evidence about her case as prosecutors sought to tie Naso's list to more cold cases.
There is no indication that any of the five other women referred to on the list have been identified, but prosecutors have said the investigation is ongoing.