Joseph Nissensohn case expands to three slayings
October 13, 2008
During the course of a single court hearing Friday, the murder charges against Joseph Nissensohn tripled in El Dorado County Superior Court.
El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury granted a motion by prosecutor Dale Gomes to add the 1981 slayings of two teenage girls in Monterey County to a criminal complaint filed in January.
The complaint charges Nissensohn with the 1989 murder of 16-year-old South Lake Tahoe resident Kathy Graves.
A skull believed to be Graves’ was found near the Mount Tallac trailhead on Aug. 22, 1990, and the decomposed bodies of 14-year-old Tanya Jones and 13-year-old Tammy Jarschke were found in a wooded area near Seaside, Calif., on Sept. 9, 1981, according to court documents.
Kingsbury made the decision to add the Monterey murders to the Graves case after arguments over Section 790(b) of the California Penal Code. The section allows alleged murders that occurred in different counties to be tried together if they are “connected together in their commission.”
Gomes argued the incidents are connected because they all happened to young girls whom Nissensohn allegedly drove to remote locations to murder. “These cases are mirror images of each other,” he said.
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Defense attorney Rick Meyer argued prosecutors had not shown any evidence that the three deaths were connected.
Under Gomes’ standard, unrelated murders of young girls in Florida, Alaska and San Diego could be joined into a single case for no other reason than the age and sex of those killed, Meyer said. “I don’t think that’s what 790(b) had in mind,” he said.
He also said the cost of amending the complaint would be “very expensive” for the county. “Why should the taxpayers of El Dorado County have to pay for that crime?” Meyer asked.
After the arguments, Kingsbury told Meyer that the biggest “stumbling block” in his argument was the lack of case law showing an evidentiary hearing is required under 790(b).
The judge noted the “weakest point” of prosecution arguments for amending the complaint was that the alleged crimes occurred eight years apart. The time span was “significantly longer” than any of the cases Gomes cited in support of his argument, Kingsbury said.
But the length of time between the deaths was not enough to deny Gomes’ motion during Friday’s hearing, Kingsbury said. “It’ll be another argument for another day,” she said.
It also will be an argument with no small consequences. “(Nissensohn) is on trial for his life,” Kingsbury said. “This is a potential capital case.”
Although Nissensohn had been housed at the county jail in South Lake Tahoe this summer, he has been housed in Placerville after suffering a heart attack since his last hearing in July.
Near the end of the hearing, Nissensohn addressed the court, saying he has lost 25 pounds and was “sick” of the special diet given to him by jail staff since the heart attack.
“I’m going hungry almost every night,” Nissensohn said.
Kingsbury granted Nissensohn’s request to be placed on a regular diet.
In 1991, Nissensohn was convicted of second-degree murder for the stabbing death of 46-year-old Sally Jo Tsaggaris in Tillicum, Wash.