SAN RAFAEL, California (Reuters) - Jurors began deliberating on Monday over whether an elderly photographer killed four northern California prostitutes as far back as the 1970s in the so-called Alphabet Murders.
The panel of six men and six women began weighing the evidence against Joseph Naso, 79, after he delivered his own closing argument at the end of a two-month trial.
Naso could face the death penalty if he is convicted of more than one of the “Alphabet Murders,” so named because the first and last name of each victim began with the same letter.
The balding, stooped photographer insisted on defending himself against four first-degree murder charges. He admitted taking pictures of women in nylons and high heels - and boastfully displayed some in court - but maintained he never killed anyone.
“Vague writings, plus photographs, plus dating stories, plus having sex, plus hoarding does not equal murder,” said Naso.
He declined to take the witness stand and told the jury he wanted to explain why, but the judge would not allow him to offer a reason.
“What motive do I have to kill anyone?” Naso asked. “I do not have a motive.”
The prosecution contends Naso drugged his victims, raped or tried to rape them and then strangled them before dumping their bodies in remote places. Investigators found pictures of two of the slain women in Naso’s safety-deposit box and notes about all of the victims on a list prosecutors described as a roster of dumping grounds.
“All four of these women - Pamela Parsons, Tracy Tafoya, Carmen Colon and Roxene Roggasch - are all on the list. Their names aren’t there,” said Deputy District Attorney Rosemary Slote. But, she said, “Law enforcement was able to use this list as a map.”
Investigators began to tie Naso to the murders in 2010, after officers visited his Reno, Nevada, home, while he was on probation for an unrelated felony theft conviction, and discovered ammunition.
A further search turned up what prosecutors have called a list of dumping grounds for 10 victims, handwritten diaries of sexual assaults and hundreds of photographs of scantily clad women, many appearing dead or unconscious.
Naso said prosecutors had no proof that he murdered any of the four women. But he did concede that DNA found in the pantyhose worn by Roggasch when her body was discovered might justify the conclusion he had sex with her.
“All it proves is I may have had sex with her,” Naso said. “I don’t remember it.”
Naso has said he knew only one of the four women, Parsons, who disappeared in 1993. He admitted photographing Parsons in April 1993 and a note in his dairy said she had “ripped him off,” Slote said.
On September 13, 1993, the day Parsons went missing, investigators found an entry on Naso’s calendar that read: “Got even on an old account,” Slote said.
Roggasch, 18, and Colon, 22, were slain in the 1970s. Parsons, 38, and Tafoya, 31, were killed in the 1990s.
DNA on nylons tied around Roggasch’s neck matched Naso’s ex-wife‘s, and DNA in Colon’s fingernail clippings matched Naso‘s.
Editing by Cynthia Johnson and Christopher Wilson