Jury deliberates in Nissensohn triple-murder trial | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Jury deliberates in Nissensohn triple-murder trial

Eric Heinz
Joseph Nissensohn sits at the defense table in early October before trial.
Eric Heinz / Tahoe Daily Tribune | Tahoe Daily Tribune

Deliberations over whether Joseph Nissensohn killed three girls, one a South Lake Tahoe resident, between 1981 and 1989 is underway.

Closing statements in the Nissensohn trial resounded from the prosecution Wednesday and the defense Thursday in El Dorado County Superior Court.

The jury went into deliberations Thursday afternoon.

Nissensohn, 62, is charged with the murder of 15-year-old South Lake Tahoe resident Kathy Graves in 1989, as well as the 1981 murders of 13-year-old Tammy Jarschke and 14-year-old Tanya Jones in Seaside, Calif.

Because of a special circumstance alleged by the prosecution, Nissensohn could face the death penalty if convicted of multiple first-degree murders.

El Dorado County Deputy District Attorney Dale Gomes led Wednesday with examples of specific motivations and fixations he accused Nissensohn of having.

Evidence Gomes referenced during his closing statement included phone recordings, accounts of sexually explicit and abusive reading material, letters written to pen pals while he was incarcerated and a testimonial from a man who had an adjacent cell to Nissensohn in 2011, during the time he awaited trial.

The theme prosecutors used Wednesday in their argument was “coincidence versus corroboration,” meaning the time and place as well as other evidence of character was enough to link Nissensohn to all three murders.

“At some point, these coincidences become corroboration,” Gomes said.

Throughout his closing statement, Gomes referred to the time and proximity to the crime the defendant was alleged to be. He said the defendant has been in these locations around the time of the killings and used forensic analysis to back his point.

On Thursday, the defense gave its closing arguments. Attorneys Hayes Gable III and Peter Kmeto parried the notions that Nissensohn was proven to be in the areas where the murders occurred.

“There’s no supporting evidence which connects Joe to the crimes,” Gable said.

Gable defended Nissensohn by saying testimonies from old friends or lovers were not enough to pin Nissensohn to the death of Graves, even after Gomes stated Nissensohn fled quickly not long after the alleged killing took place. The defense countered by saying that Nissensohn had planned to leave the area anyway, thereby not giving the jury evidence of Nissensohn’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Kmeto said the time frame and locations aren’t accurate to what witnesses provided the court in the Seaside case.

A primary witness who spent more time with the defendant than anyone was Nissensohn’s ex-wife, Cheryl Rose, who died in 2010.

Rose was the key witness in a Washington trial and gave the most accounts of the defendant’s actions. Nissensohn served 15 years for the second-degree murder of Sally Jo Tsaggaris in 1989 in Tillicum, Wash.

Gomes reiterated in his rebuttal Thursday that the prior behavior and phone conversation between Nissensohn and his wife were part of the evidence connecting him to the three killings.

“There is an overwhelming weight of evidence,” Gomes said. “It does not matter if he was the perpetrator; if he is the abettor, at best he will be convicted of first-degree felony murder.”

Kmeto said it is not enough just to convict Nissensohn based on hearsay, possibly botched memories from witnesses and sexually explicit materials Nissensohn had in his jail cell.

“Will you lower the bar of proof just because Joe Nissensohn is Joe Nissensohn,” Kmeto asked the jury.

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