An El Dorado County jury soon will decide if convicted triple murderer Joseph Michael Nissensohn faces execution or life in prison for his crimes.
Nissensohn, 62, was convicted in November of murdering three California teens, Kathy Graves of South Lake Tahoe in 1989 and Tammy Jarschke and Tanya Jones, both of Seaside, in 1981.
The “penalty phase” of Nissensohn’s murder trial started Tuesday in South Lake Tahoe.
Questioned by deputy district attorney Dale Gomes, family members of the three girls described the horror of the girls disappearing and later being found murdered, their remains tied to trees or scattered by animals in the woods.
“I want to see this to the end. To see justice for Tanya and the other girls,” Suse Jones said of her decision to testify.
Jones recalled her daughter Tanya going missing the summer of 1981. Days passed and then weeks before police came and told her they suspected her daughter’s remains had been located, she said.
Jones said the worry and realization of what happened hit her “like a fist.” She was in constant shock then and is still struggling with the loss of Tanya three decades later.
“She was a part of me, a part of me that was brutally killed,” Jones said of her daughter, who was 14 at the time of her death. “When people say time heals all wounds, they have no idea. This is still an open wound and will be as long as I live.”
Gary Jarschke told the jury he’s never been the same since the loss of his only child, Tammy, who was 13. He said the murder devastated him and his family “right down to the bone.”
“Not a day goes by I don’t think about her. I wonder what kind of woman she would be, what my grandchildren would be like. That’s gone forever. It’s hard to deal with,” Jarschke said.
Looking squarely at Nissensohn, Jarschke said, “This guy’s put a spike in my heart. Nothing’s going to help it until they do something to him that he deserves, and I don’t know if even that will.”
Sherri Lee Parsley described her niece Kathy Graves as “the best girl ever.” Parsley said she and her husband, with three children of their own, had tried unsuccessfully to adopt Graves before she was murdered. The girl, 15 at the time, had a broken home and a father who was “not good at all,” Parsley said.
Parsley told the jury she cried for “weeks straight” when Graves went missing and was later found in the woods, her bones scattered by animals. Almost 25 years later, Parsley said she’s still trying to get Graves’ remains so she can lay her niece to rest.
Nissensohn was previously convicted of second-degree murder for the 1989 killing of Sally Jo Tsaggaris in Washington state. Authorities charged Nissensohn with the California murders just days before he finished serving his sentence in that case.
With a prior second-degree murder conviction and the three first-degree murder convictions, Nissensohn is eligible for the death penalty in California, a punishment the district attorney’s office chose to pursue several years ago, Gomes said.
Nissensohn’s defense attorneys present their witnesses to the jury Thursday.