FRESNO, Calif. -- Fresno's police chief acknowledged yesterday that his department is investigating whether Marcus Wesson fatally shot nine of his children while police waited outside his house, despite frantic pleas from relatives to intervene.
Relatives of the victims and neighbors say police should have done more to prevent the deaths, and Police Chief Jerry Dyer said even some officers were wondering whether they did the right thing. But Dyer defended authorities' response to what began as a custody dispute.
A group of adult relatives confronted Wesson Friday at the home where he lived with an extended clan of children he fathered with six women, including two of his own daughters.
Police "made what I believe to be an appropriate decision to summon negotiators and a SWAT team to negotiate the situation peacefully without entering the residence and escalating the situation," Dyer said.
Wesson, 57, has been charged with nine counts of murder and could face the death penalty if convicted.
The victims include children ages 1 to 17, as well as his 25-year-old daughter, who was the mother of one of the infants killed.
Wesson's arraignment was delayed when he appeared in court yesterday without a lawyer and said, "I don't want a public defender, I beg thee." He was ordered to return today with an attorney or accept representation by the state.
Two of Wesson's sons attended the hearing. One spoke out, saying four times: "I love you, Dad." He was then led from the courtroom and could be heard crying outside.
Police have not said exactly when the victims died or what kind of gun was used, and the coroner's office was still preparing its report yesterday.
Officers at the scene said they heard no gunshots, but other witnesses said shots could be heard clearly.
The relatives, who had come to the house to try to get their children, told officers Wesson had a gun and that the children were in danger, police said.
But Dyer said his officers had no immediate reason to believe Wesson was a threat, so they allowed him to disappear into a back room.
Hours passed as police tried to make contact with Wesson. He eventually emerged, covered in blood, and surrendered.
Lieutenant Herman Silva has said police did not initially have authority to enter the house, even after being told he might have a gun. He also said officers would have responded rapidly had they heard gunshots, but they never did.
Some neighbors disputed that account, saying officers were present when shots rang out. Maria Elena Leyva, a homemaker who lives across the street, reported hearing at least four shots. She pulled her children away from the window as more officers arrived.
"I heard the women shouting and crying," she said in Spanish. "One of the women was crying, 'My baby. My baby.' "
A relative of the victims, sobbing repeatedly during an interview, said officers missed an opportunity to defuse the situation.
"All the kids were alive" when police arrived, said the man, who spoke on condition he not be named. "The guy was just standing there, at the door, with no weapons."
The man said that shortly after police arrived, the mother of one of the victims managed to get inside Wesson's house and briefly held her 7-year-old son's hand as police talked with Wesson outside.
"She feared for her life and the kids' lives," he said. "That was the last time she saw him."