Published August 21, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO – A former photographer was convicted Tuesday of murdering four young California women decades ago after a two-month trial in which prosecutors called him a remorseless serial killer who preyed on young prostitutes.
Jurors deliberated for about eight hours over two days in Marin County Superior Court before finding Joseph Naso, 79, guilty of slaying the four women with alliterative names: Roxene Roggasch in 1977, Carmen Colon in 1978, Pamela Parsons in 1993 and Tracy Tafoya in 1994.
The jury of six men and six women will reconvene Sept. 4 to determine if Naso gets the death penalty.
Even if Naso is sentenced to death, it is unlikely he will be executed. There are 725 inmates already on California's Death Row and executions have been on hold since 2006, when a federal judge ordered an overhaul of California's execution protocol. It will take at least another year for prison officials to properly adopt the state's new single-drug execution method and have it cleared by the judge.
All the victims were found dumped in rural Northern California locations. Roggasch's body was found in Marin County and was the reason Naso's trial was held in the historical Marin Civic Center designed by noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Colon was found in Contra Costa County and the other two victims in Yuba County. Investigators believe Naso could be responsible for as many as six more murders and authorities are exploring Naso's connections to several unsolved murders.
Naso was arrested in 2010 after probation officers visiting his Reno, Nev., home in connection with an unrelated gun conviction discovered a macabre dwelling with incriminating evidence.
Investigators found numerous photographs of nude women posed in unnatural positions who appeared dead or unconscious with mannequin parts and lingerie strewn about nearby. Investigators said they also found a "List of 10" that Naso had scrawled with descriptions of 10 women, including references prosecutors believe described the four victims he was charged with killing.
Prosecutors said Naso drugged and photographed his unconscious victims then strangled them and disposed of their naked bodies.
Naso acted as his own attorney and told jurors during his closing arguments that he often hired prostitutes to photograph in exotic poses and enjoyed off-beat art. But he insisted he was no killer.
Nonetheless, the balding Naso, who often seemed befuddled and repeated himself during his rambling closing arguments, struggled to explain away some of the most persuasive evidence against him.
Naso's DNA was found on the pantyhose Roggasch was wearing when her body was found. His ex-wife's DNA was found on pantyhose wrapped around Roggasch's neck.
Naso told the jury that the evidence only showed he had had sex with Roggasch. He said there was no proof that he killed her and that prosecutors had no way of knowing who put the pantyhose around her neck.
Legal analysts said that Naso made a mistake representing himself, even if he boasted at one point that "I think I'm doing quite well" during his closing arguments, which consumed all day Friday and half of Monday.
"He's bright," said attorney Brian Kanel, who watched some of the trial. "But not that bright."
Another legal observer agreed.
Steven Clark, a former prosecutor now in private practice, said a good defense attorney would have hired a DNA expert to at least try to throw some doubt on how the evidence was gathered, stored and processed to undermine the prosecution's strongest argument.
"The prosecution did have a challenging case because it happened so long ago," Clark said. "Why Mr. Naso chose to focus on the things he focused on is beyond me. I'm not sure what his plan was."