On Oct. 16, the prosecution, out of order and with expert witnesses left to testify for the defense, began their rebuttal against the defense’s case of Joseph Michael Nissensohn in a triple-murder case.
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First to testify was Tosha Djirbandee, the cousin of Tammy Thornton. Thornton testified earlier in the trial that it was not Nissensohn who killed two girls — Tammy Jarschke and Tonya Jones, near Monterey — but her ex-boyfriend Ira Gilmore. Their uncle, Chuck Rider, knew Nissensohn while the defendant lived in Monterey.
Djirbandee said she had not spoken to her cousin for three years, by happenstance, until recently. When asked about her cousin, Djirbandee said “she was a little silly,” and that her family said her cousin was not trustworthy. But, she said, she liked Thornton and had no opinion herself of her cousin’s trustworthiness.
Her family had also told her to stay away from Rider, his friend Jesse Prieto and their group of friends. She said she still has a fear of that group.
The murders of Jarschke and Jones were a common topic of the family, she said, during the early 1980s. Thornton, she said, was not around the family homes much in those days. She also heard nothing about Gilmore supposedly committing the crimes. Instead, she heard it was Prieto — who Thornton claimed helped Gilmore — and Rider involved. Never Gilmore, though she had heard the name once.
As a side note, she said her aunt and Tammy’s mother, Roxanna, was hiding from the prosecution’s subpoena.
She told Kmeto that Prieto had indeed died, but she was still afraid of Rider. In 1981, she was 11 years old and “hung out with druggies,” but the respectable people in her family suspected Rider had something to do with the murders.
Gomes then called Rider to the stand. Rider, who had just been released from state prison for violation of probation after an assault with a deadly weapon — a bat — and went directly to Roxanna’s house. He was close to both her and her daughter, Tammy, who Rider said was dependent on her mother. He said that Tammy was at her mother’s house daily, and was going there every day for at least 30 years. He, too, was around the house when he was not working, often having morning coffee with his sister.
Rider noted that he was indeed lifelong friends with Prieto until Prieto’s death. Though he had not seen him in years, Rider identified Nissensohn in the courtroom. He said he was also friends with the men cutting wood on Chews Ridge that found the two bodies, men who had testified in the trial already. The case is “still a big deal today,” he said, and it “shook the whole community” when it happened.
He would speculate what happened with his family, relaying Prieto and Nissensohn’s names as possible suspects, though he didn’t know who did it. But, he said, he “speculated many times.” He was unsure if Tammy had been present for any of those conversations.
He knew of Ira Gilmore, Tammy’s ex-boyfriend, only through word of mouth, and only met him once. He and Prieto arrived at Gilmore’s door, met Gilmore’s mother and demanded to take Tammy back home. He said he was willing to hurt Gilmore if needed to get his niece back to the house, but Gilmore’s mother convinced him to let Tammy go. Other than that incident, he said, he didn’t know of Prieto to interact with Gilmore, either, contrary to Tammy’s testimony. Rider had only heard allegations that Gilmore might have committed the murders in the past few years, from Roxanna.
Rider told Kmeto that he used marijuana, meth and prescription drugs in the early 1980s. He also noted that he and Steve Agee, one of the loggers, grew marijuana together. Tosha would come over and hang out with them at his mother’s house, he said, but he “did not keep tabs” on Tammy.
The final witness of the rebuttal was Monterey Detective Marty Opseth, who testified previously.
Opseth noted he was part of 75 homicides over the years, as both a police officer and detective. He responded to hundreds of dead bodies in general. They have a forensic pathologist and contract out when he is not available, he said. But, he said, it was “atypical” and “very unusual” for one to be brought out to the scene, contrary to an earlier defense witness’ testimony. Of the homicide cases, only in one had the pathologist been called out to the scene. The Department of Justice, he said, does have criminalists available for consultation, but only during business hours.
Opseth made note that Jacks Peak, about 15 minutes from downtown Monterey, was some 43 miles away from Chews Ridge, where Jarschke and Jones’ bodies were found.
The detective told Kmeto that today, certain deputies are used in lieu of forensic pathologists. In 1981, they had used the deputy coroner on cases.
After Opseth stepped down, the jury was let out and the rebuttal concluded. Presiding Judge Suzanne Kingsbury asked Nissensohn whether he intended to testify. He said he did not.
Nissensohn is accused of killing Tammy Jarschke and Tanya Jones in Seaside, near Monterey, in 1981, and Kathy Graves in South Lake Tahoe in 1989. He has already served 15 years after being convicted on the second-degree murder of Sally Jo Tsaggaris in 1991. If found guilty, Nissensohn would be classified a serial killer and could face the death penalty.
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or [email protected] Follow @CMayerMtDemo.