Judge Finds Accused Serial Killers Aren’t Necessarily Good Lawyers

Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Joseph Naso

When accused “Alphabet Killer “ Joseph Naso appeared in Marin County Superior Court on Monday for the first day of his trial, all eyes were on his lawyer.

That’s because Naso chose to represent himself, a rare move for accused serial killers, according to court watchers. It didn’t work out for Ted Bundy when he tried it in 1986 and it was a dismal failure when Rodney Alcala gave it a shot in 2010.

If the 79-year-old former photographer loses the first-degree murder case—Naso is accused of killing four prostitutes in Northern California dating back 40 years—he could face the death penalty.

Judging by Superior Court Judge Andrew Sweet’s comments, Naso is not off to a good start. Reuters reported that on Day Two, the judge admonished Naso for repeatedly interrupting a witness and “several other transgressions of trial decorum.” The judge accused him of trying to turn the trial into a “circus” and warned him that he could lose the right to defend himself.

Sweet was also critical of Naso’s opening statement the day before that mentioned evidence the judge had already ruled inadmissible. What was admissible was his rambling account of why he talked about rape in his diaries: “That's just the way I refer to making out or having great sex,” he said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “It's just loose talk. ‘I picked up a broad and I raped her.’ ”

Naso was arrested in Nevada in 2010 while on probation for shoplifting. A search of his home turned up hundreds of photographs of naked women who appeared to be unconscious or worse. Investigators also found a diary of sexual assaults and a list of dumping grounds.

He was dubbed the “Alphabet Killer” because the first and last names of the four women he is accused of killing—Roxene Roggasch, Carmen Colon, Pamela Parson and Tracy Tafoya—each begin with same letter.

The four women named in the murder charges were among a “List of 10” Naso had made, which included descriptions of each. A passport of one of the women on the list (not an official victim) was found in Naso’s safe deposit box.   

Naso dismissed the evidence in his opening statement, showing the jury dozens of photographs he took of women partially disrobed, interspersed with pictures of weddings and landscapes. He called the women “models,” and his photo collection “his art.” 

It has only been three years since Alcala, “The Dating Game Killer,” acted as his own lawyer during his third California trial for killing a string of women. He showed a clip from the television show, on which he had been a contestant, to refute claims that earrings found in his possession belonged to one of his victims. But Alcala’s contention that he was wearing the earrings on the show went unproven because his long hair covered his ears.

One of the highlights of Alcala’s spirited defense was playing a snippet from Arlo Gutherie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” The jury got to hear: “I want to kill. I mean, I wanna, I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. I mean kill, Kill, KILL, KILL.”

Waiting in the wings should Naso falter as legal counsel is a court-appointed advisory counsel, who is currently forbidden from overtly participating in the proceedings. 

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Judge Irked by Accused Killer Acting as Own Lawyer (by Ronnie Cohen, Reuters)

Joseph Naso Says He’s No Killer (by Justin Berton, San Francisco Chronicle)

Joseph Naso Trial: Serial Murder Suspect Gives Own Opening Statement (by Jason Dearen, Associated Press)

Judge Weeps as “Dating Game” Serial Killer Rodney Alcala Sentenced (by Kate Mather and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times)

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