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Joseph Naso Found Guilty In NorCal Serial Killings

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Joseph Naso. (CBS)

Joseph Naso (L) stands in court during a previous appearance. (CBS)

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SAN RAFAEL (CBS/AP/BCN) – A Marin County jury on Tuesday convicted former commercial photographer Joseph Naso of killing four women in the Bay Area and Yuba County 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 before finding the 79-year-old Naso guilty in the slayings of the four women with alliterative names: Roxene Roggasch, 18, of Oakland in 1977; Carmen Colon, 22, of the East Bay in 1978; Pamela Parsons, 38, of Linda in 1993; and Tracy Tafoya, 31, of Yuba County in 1994. The name pattern prompted investigators and the media to refer to the case as the ‘Double-Initial Killings.’

Naso, who represented himself in the trial which began in mid-June, did not visibly react when the verdict was read in Marin County Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon. He was convicted on all four counts of first-degree murder, as well as the special circumstance of committing multiple murders, which makes him eligible for the death penalty.

After the jury had left the courtroom, Naso addressed Judge Andrew Sweet, saying it seemed to him that the jurors seemed uninterested in the details of the case during the trial. He said he didn’t see them taking a lot of notes and said it appeared to him that they just wanted to “get it over with and go home.”

“I’m making a motion to call a mistrial,” said Naso. But Sweet immediately denied that motion, saying he did not see any evidence of juror misconduct and calling Naso’s concerns “inventive paranoia about what happened in the jury room.”

Larry Roggasch, the brother of victim Roxene Roggasch, told reporters after the jury’s verdict was announced that “it’s been a long time coming. Thank you (jurors) from the bottom of my heart. It is some peace for me.”

Asked what he would say to Naso, he replied that he would tell him to take his own life by hanging himself, or to “jump off a bridge, get it over with.”

The jury of six men and six women will reconvene Sept. 4 for the penalty phase of the trial to determine whether Naso will face capital punishment.

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.

Naso was arrested in 2010 after probation officers visiting his Reno, Nevada, 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. It also contained some of the locations where their bodies were found.

Prosecutors said Naso drugged and photographed his unconscious victims then strangled them and disposed of their naked bodies. All the victims, believed to have worked as prostitutes, were found dumped in rural Bay Area and Northern California locations.

Roggasch’s body was found off of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard west of Fairfax in Marin County on Jan. 11, 1977. Colon’s body was found near Carquinez Scenic Drive in Port Costa in Contra Costa County on Aug. 15, 1978. The bodies of Parsons and Tafoya were found in Yuba County in September 1993 and August 1994, respectively.

Investigators believe Naso could be responsible for as many as six more murders, based on his list, and authorities were also exploring Naso’s connections to several additional unsolved murders.

Deputy District Attorney Dori Ahana said Tuesday that prosecutors were seeking to present evidence during the penalty phase about one of those murders for which Naso hasn’t been charged.

She would not say which murder, but during the trial prosecutor Rosemary Slote said one of the entries on Naso’s handwritten list, “girl in Woodland, Nevada County,” could refer to a woman named Renee Shapiro.

Shapiro, an avid Bob Dylan fan, changed her name to “Sara Dylan,” and was last seen at a Dylan concert in Hawaii in April 1992, according to prosecutors.

A skull found in Nevada County in 1998 is believed to be that of Shaprio, and a passport and driver’s license with the name “Sara Dylan” were found in Naso’s safe deposit box at a bank in Reno, prosecutors said.

During the trial, the prosecution presented 70 witnesses, while Naso called just seven to the stand.

Naso 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 in semen collected from 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.”

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco, the Associated Press and Bay City News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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