SAN RAFAEL (CBS/AP/BCN) — Marin County jurors presiding over the trial of an elderly photographer accused of being a serial killer who murdered four Northern California prostitutes began deliberating late Monday.
Observers in the San Rafael courtroom said the judge didn’t announce a schedule for the jury, though it appeared likely they would return Tuesday to continue deliberating.
Joseph Naso, 79, pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder and represented himself during the two-month trial with some assistance from the Marin County Public Defender’s office. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
He is charged with strangling the four women whose bodies were found off the side of rural roads in Marin, Contra Costa and Yuba counties between 1977 and 1994. The four victims all had alliterative initials in their names, prompting investigators to label the case the “Double Initials Killings.” Naso also remains a suspect in several other unsolved murders.
Marin County Deputy District Attorney Rosemary Slote told the jury in her closing arguments that Naso picked up the four women in his car, took them home, strangled them and dumped their bodies. The prosecution also presented DNA evidence it claimed directly linked Naso to the murders of Roxene Roggasch, 18, of Oakland and Carmen Colon, 22, an East Bay resident.
Roggasch’s body was found on Jan. 11, 1977, near Fairfax in Marin County and Colon’s body was discovered off Carquinez Scenic Drive near Port Costa in Contra Costa County. The other victims are Yuba County residents Pamela Parsons, 38, of Linda, and Tracy Tafoya, 31. Parsons body was found on Sept. 19, 1993, in Yuba County and Tafoya’s body was found in Yuba County on Aug. 14, 1994.
Naso was arrested in Reno, Nevada, in 2010 after probation officers searched his home in connection with an unrelated gun conviction. Investigators found numerous photographs of nude women who appeared unconscious and in unnatural positions, laminated obits of some of the victims, a “list of 10” unnamed women that appeared to be a list of murder victims and where he dumped their bodies.
In addition, prosecutors read numerous entries in a diary purportedly kept by Naso that contained scrawled accounts of approaching women and offering them a ride home before raping them between 1950 and 1970. “Outside the front door I overpowered her and ravaged her,” read one entry set in London. “I couldn’t help myself.” Other passages described incidents in Berkeley, as well as Cleveland, Ohio; Kansas City, Mo.; Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y.; as well as Wichita, Kansas.
Naso said his “date diaries,” and the list didi not contain the names of the alleged victims or time and place of any murders.
“I’m not on trial for sexual assault,” he told the jury several times during his closing statement. “This case is about murder, not about events and activities that have never been charged as crimes.”
The prosecution called 70 witnesses during the trial, while Naso called just seven.
During his nearly two-day closing argument that began Friday and continued Monday, Naso came across as a confused and cantankerous grandfather who claimed he is being prosecuted for his offbeat sexual desires that he never acted on, rather than for the actual murders of the four young women – two in the 1970s and other two in the 1990s.
“In his preposterous way where he fumbled and bumbled for two days as a confused grandfatherly type may have humanized him for the jury,” said Barry Kanal, an attorney not connected to the case who watched the proceedings Monday. “On the other hand, the prosecution did a great job of arguing that the DNA evidence was incontrovertible and she hit all the high points for the jurors.”
Naso asked the jury to ignore the prosecution’s attempt to “mislead” them with illegal circumstantial evidence and “inflame” them with photographs of the women’s bodies. He also told the jury if they disregard the prosecution’s “tattletales” about his alleged past sexual offenses, they would be convinced he is not guilty of all four murders.
Naso said he had no motive to kill anyone because he had a good family life and was involved in community service. He admitted he picked up Parsons hitchhiking and photographed her but said he didn’t kill her.
Regarding the prosecution’s contention about DNA linking him to two of the victims, Naso said that would only prove he might have had sex with them. “But I don’t remember,” he added.
Rather than refuting what Slote said the prosecution proved, Naso instead focused the jury on what he said was not proved.
“The prosecution can’t prove I am capable of lifting over 30 pounds due to a bad back and torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder and a fracture in my left elbow,” Naso told the jury.
“The prosecution can’t prove I’m capable of killing four people and transporting them long distances and dumping their bodies,” he said.
If the jurors find Naso guilty of any of the first-degree murder charges, they will reconvene for a second mini-trial to determine if Naso deserves the death penalty.
Even if he is sentenced to death, it is unlikely he would be executed. There are already 725 inmates on Death Row awaiting executions, which a federal judge put on hold in 2006 until the state revamps its capital punishment system.
Naso is charged with killing four prostitutes whose names have double initials: 18-year-old 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.
Investigators have not said whether the double initials in each victim’s name was a coincidence or a plan.
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