It took a jury 90 minutes on Dec. 10 to decide that a man who had recently been convicted of three first-degree murders should receive the death penalty.
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Joseph Michael Nissensohn was convicted by a jury in late October of killing Tammy Jarschke and Tanya Jones in Seaside, near Monterey, in 1981, and Kathy Graves in South Lake Tahoe in 1989. He had been charged with the three murders just before his release, serving 15 years for the second-degree murder of Sally Tsaggaris in Seattle in 1991.
The trial to determine whether Nissensohn — who “views himself as a serial killer,” prosecutor Dale Gomes asserted during the opening of his closing — was guilty featured a story of sex and drugs that spiraled into murder.
Late ex-wife Cheryl Rose testified of the murders and called Nissensohn a serial killer. 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 about serial killer Paul Bernardo — eerily close to Nissensohn’s own story of sex, drugs, murder and Nissensohn’s dreams of having an underage sex slave — was found in his jail cell.
Defense attorneys Hayes Gable III and Peter Kmeto attempted to sway the jury, to no avail, by pointing out that there was no DNA evidence positively linking Nissensohn to the murders and that crime scene investigations had been botched. They also thoroughly examined whether memories had been filled in by the witnesses’ minds, whether events happened as had been testified.
But a three-day deliberation handed out the same verdict for all three charges: Guilty of first-degree murder.