By Ronnie Cohen
SAN RAFAEL, California (Reuters) - A jury recommended the death penalty on Tuesday for an elderly former photographer convicted in the murders of four Northern California prostitutes, all with matching first and last initials, dating back to the 1970s.
Joseph Naso, 79, who was found guilty of four counts of first-degree murder in August in the so-called "Alphabet murders," looked stoic but ashen as the verdict was read in Marin County Superior Court.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated for a little more than four hours about whether to recommend that Naso be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Marin County Superior Court Judge Andrew Sweet is expected to formally sentence him next month and has the option to impose the recommended sentence or set it aside.
The judge ordered Naso back to court on September 20 for further proceedings. Naso remains a suspect in the killings of at least two other California women whose deaths the jury considered in recommending capital punishment.
Deputy District Attorney Dori Ahana argued that Naso strangled all four women and "played God." She said it took two to five minutes for each of Naso's victims to die, and during a closing argument in the trial's death-penalty phase, she set a timer so jurors could silently count down 120 seconds.
"He enjoyed their suffering," Ahana said. "He enjoyed their pain, tying them up and dumping their bodies like garbage."
The balding, stooped-shouldered Naso insisted on his innocence and acted as his own attorney during the two-month trial.
'SHE CAN REST IN PEACE'
Prosecutors contended that Naso drugged his victims, sexually assaulted and strangled them and dumped their bodies in remote places. Naso admitted taking pictures of women in nylons and high heels and boastfully displayed some of what he called his "art" in court while maintaining he never killed anyone.
Pedro Oliveros, a lawyer who advised Naso throughout the trial, read a statement from the convicted serial killer outside the courtroom after the verdict.
"I want to help others in prison," he said. "I am on the threshold of a new life and will make the best of it."
During the trial, Naso insisted that prosecutors lacked any physical proof that he killed the four women. However, he conceded that DNA found in the pantyhose worn by one of the women, Roxene Roggasch, might justify the conclusion that he had sex with her.
Roggasch, 18, and Carmen Colon, 22, were slain in the 1970s. Two other victims, Pamela Parsons, 38, and Tracy Tafoya, 31, were killed in the 1990s.
Colon's daughter, Angelique McDonald, who was 6 years old when her mother was murdered, was in the courtroom to hear the death verdict. "I'm happy knowing that we finally found the person who murdered my mom after 35 years, and she can just rest in peace," said McDonald, 41.
Ahana told jurors that Naso also killed Renee Shapiro, 38, and Sharieea Patton, 56. Shapiro, a Bob Dylan fan who went by the name of the musician's former wife, Sara Dylan, vanished in 1992. Patton's body washed ashore in Marin County in 1981.
Investigators found Shapiro's driver's license and passport in Naso's safe-deposit box, along with newspaper obituaries about Parsons and Tafoya. Patton lived in a San Francisco apartment house that Naso once managed.
California has not executed a convict since 2006.
(Reporting by Ronnie Cohen; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)