Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday in the trial of a man charged with the shooting deaths of nine of his children.
Marcus Wesson, a domineering patriarch who allegedly controlled his family with religious teachings, incest and threats of mass suicide, could be put to death if convicted.
About 2,200 potential jurors have been summoned to appear in Fresno County Superior Court for a process that is expected to take about a month.
“I’ll be looking for jurors who will refuse to lower the burden of proof in the face of enormous publicity and community sentiment,” Wesson’s public defender, Pete Jones, said last week.
Wesson, 57, is charged with shooting nine of his children, ages 1 to 25, on March 12, 2004. Officers were called to his home by two women who were trying to retrieve their children from inside the household.
Wesson is also accused of 13 sex crimes, including rape, with each of the victims believed to be family members.
Prosecutors won’t discuss their trial strategy, but witnesses include several experts on mind control, indicating they may try to show Wesson ordered one of his children to commit the murders.
White coffins against the wall
Wesson was the only one to emerge alive from the family home at the end of a tense, hours-long standoff; inside, police found nine bodies in a bloody tangle and 10 white coffins stacked against the living room walls.
Each victim had been shot once in the eye — the youngest a 1-year-old, the oldest a 25-year-old woman whose child was among the dead.
No gunpowder residue was found on Wesson’s hands.
Wesson’s attorney has argued the oldest victim — Wesson’s daughter Sebhrenah — pulled the trigger, killing her siblings and her child before committing suicide.
Prosecutor Lisa Gamoian has not spoken to the press about the case, and was not available for comment before trial. She has said in court that Wesson was to blame for the killings.
“It was only Mr. Wesson who exited the bedroom,” Gamoian said.