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Prosecutors to seek death penalty for accused "Alphabet murders"

SAN RAFAEL, California (Reuters) - Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against “Alphabet Murders” suspect Joseph Naso, a judge said on Wednesday, but the 78-year-old accused serial killer insisted on continuing to act as his own attorney.

Joseph Naso in an undated photo. REUTERS/Washoe County Sheriff's office

Naso, who has admitted a penchant for photographing women in nylons and high heels but denies killing anyone, is charged with first-degree murder in the slayings of four northern California prostitutes, two in the 1970s and two more in the 1990s.

Naso was also named last year as a suspect in the 1970s killings of three girls in Rochester, New York, and homicide detectives around the nation are said to be reviewing their cold-case files for possible links to Naso.

The killings he is accused of committing were dubbed the “Alphabet Murders” because each victim had first and last names beginning with the same letters.

Representing himself during an appearance in Marin County Superior Court, Naso entered not-guilty pleas to the charges.

“I deny everything,” he said, sitting alone hunched over the defense table, dressed in red-and-white jail garb with his legs shackled.

During the 35-minute proceeding, Judge Andrew Sweet said prosecutors had notified him by letter that they intended to seek the death penalty against Naso. He is due in court again March 28 for a hearing to set a trial date.

Nevada probation officers arrested Naso in 2010 after finding ammunition, journals detailing violent sex acts and photographs of naked women in his Reno home.

The officers had gone to Naso’s house under the terms of his probation for shoplifting from a South Lake Tahoe store where he worked. Naso has been held without bail in the Marin County Jail since April.

Two of the women he is charged with killing were strangled. The bodies of the other two were too badly decomposed to determine the cause of their deaths.

The four women are included on what authorities call Naso’s “list of 10,” a handwritten, numbered roster found in his house that mentions women in various locations -- nine in California and one in Florida.

An investigation is continuing into the fate of the other six women on the list, including one referred to as the “girl from Heldsburg.” Earlier this year, police in Healdsburg, California, exhumed a body of a woman found dead decades ago to see if her death could be linked to Naso.


The strongest evidence against Naso relates to the murder of Roxene Roggasch. Her body, dressed only in a pair of pantyhose worn inside out, was found in 1977 near Lagunitas, in rural Marin County. Semen taken from the pantyhose matched Naso’s DNA, court documents say.

Roggasch, who was 18, worked as a prostitute out of Oakland. She was found with a pair of nylon stockings wrapped around her neck, another pair wrapped around her mouth and a third stuffed into her mouth, the documents say.

The naked, decomposed body of Carmen Colon, 22, was discovered in rural Contra Costa County in 1978. The nude body of Pamela Parsons, 38, was found in a rural area of Yuba County, near where Naso lived, in 1993. Investigators found photographs of Parsons and newspaper articles about her death in one of Naso’s safe-deposit boxes, officials said.

The nude body of Tracy Tafoya, 31, was found along a highway next to a cemetery in 1994. Investigators said they found a journal in Naso’s home with an entry dated August 6, 1994, the day she went missing, that says, “Met Tracy -- put it to her.”

Journals found in Naso’s Reno home detail sexual assaults as far back as the 1950s, according to court documents.

One entry reads: “Buffalo girl ... She was only 17. ... Picked her up at work once. And put it to her in the front seat. She told her mother. Mother told cops. Cop ... told me to get out of town. 1958.” Naso was arrested for attempted rape in New York in April 1958, court documents say.

During a hearing in January, Naso said his journal entries had been misconstrued. “I sometimes use the term ‘rape’ to mean I scored, I made out,” he said. “When I use the word, ‘rape,’ it just means I had a good time.”

Investigators say they found hundreds of photographs in Naso’s home and safe-deposit box of women who appeared dead or unconscious. They also found guns, handcuffs, badges, law-enforcement uniforms, a video about notorious killers Ted Bundy and Gary Gilmore, mannequin parts, a mannequin wearing a red dress and more than $150,000 in cash.

Prosecutors have said Naso was ineligible for a public defender because he has nearly $1 million in assets.

Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston