The jury in the Joseph Michael Nissensohn triple-murder trial began their deliberations Thursday afternoon after hearing closing arguments.
Nissensohn “views himself as a serial killer,” prosecutor Dale Gomes asserted during the opening of his closing argument on Oct. 23. Gomes called Nissensohn “a sexual predator and murderer” and played audio for the jury. In the audio, Nissensohn’s ex-wife, Cheryl Rose, accuses Nissensohn — almost jokingly — of being the serial killer that had been terrorizing Gainsville, Fla. at the time. Nissensohn laughed instead of denying the accusation. Rose, as she told Nissensohn, did not think it was funny.
“This is a man that talks of crimes matter-of-factly and without remorse,” Gomes said.
Gomes then went over witnesses that had testified over the course of the trial and their claims against the defendant. Sandy Volkert, another ex-wife, said she was not into the BDSM sexual lifestyle Nissensohn enjoyed. Kim Eliason testified how she was kidnapped by Nissensohn over a disagreement about drugs and that he raped her in the back of a milk truck at gun- and knifepoint. Brenda Miller initially found him charming until he demanded sex and beat her afterwards. He would also blindfold her, strip her naked and “show off his conquest” to friends. Summer Dawn, Miller’s daughter, was led to a shed under the pretense of a hunting trip when she was 5 years old and made into Nissensohn’s juvenile sex slave — something he had always wanted. Jessica Pillow, who was with Nissensohn for less than a week while she was a juvenile, was also molested. Maggie Myers said he was obsessed with wanting to have sex with Kathy Graves, one of his alleged victims.
A book on Canadian serial killer Paul Bernardo, featuring explicit sex scenes, was taken from Nissensohn’s jail cell in 2007, Gomes said. The defendant had told another inmate — who later became a jailhouse informant and testified during the trial — that Bernardo’s crimes were similar to his own.
Nissensohn’s one regret, Gomes said, was he did not get to kill Rose, who died in July 2010.
The case, Gomes said, boils down to “coincidence or conviction.” All of his evidence, he said, was corroborated by at least two witnesses. At what point do all the coincidences in the case, he asked the jury, become circumstantial evidence?
Rose, for example, testified to his extreme sexual lifestyle. Nissensohn had pen pals, including Sandie Johnson, while in jail, writing letters that guards testified were some of the most explicit and prolific writing they had seen. They also found the Bernardo book in 2007 and photocopies of it in 2011 in his cell; Nissensohn’s letters had similar content.
The day the jailhouse informant got out of solitary confinement, he gave information to the District Attorney’s Office that he could only know if Nissensohn provided it to him, such as the hidden photocopies and details of the alleged crimes. He was told upfront that he would get nothing in return for the information. The Bernardo photocopies were exactly where the informant told them to look — guard Steve Sherman testified as such. The informant also described details of two of Nissensohn’s alleged victims, Tammy Jarschke and Tonya Jones, that he would not be able to get anywhere else.
Miller’s information also matched up with what the informant said, Gomes noted. But Miller and the informant did not know each other. “How does that fit as coincidence?” Gomes asked.
Another example was a claim by the defense that Nissensohn walked for four or five hours from the scene of the crime in Monterey, where Jones and Jarschke were found, Gomes said, was nonsense. Monterey Detective Marty Opseth did the walk Nissensohn allegedly did in only 45 minutes.
Three charges of murder, for Jarschke, Jones and Graves, could be second-degree, but the jury could find them to fall under “felony first-degree murder,” Gomes said. Because the girls were killed either in the commission or intent to rape, kidnap or, in the case of Jarschke, lewd acts with a 14-year-old, they automatically become first-degree murder charges.
Gomes said that there were no credible facts for another murder in any of the four murders, including Sally Jo Tsaggaris; Nissensohn served 15 years for the second-degree murder of Tsaggaris. The common link between all four is Nissensohn, Gomes said.
Nissensohn was stuck on Chews Ridge, a few hundred feet from where Jarschke and Jones’ bodies were found, coincidentally around the same time they went missing. Car tracks were exactly where witnesses said they would be.
He was the last person to see each girl, Gomes said, a “sexual predator with an inclination towards murder, just like his obsession with Paul Bernardo.”
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or [email protected] Follow @CMayerMtDemo.