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Prosecutors investigate murder suspect’s access to pornography

Adam Jensen
Nevada Appeal News Service

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – El Dorado County prosecutors sought a search warrant Thursday to determine whether alleged serial killer Joseph Nissensohn was able to view pornography while in custody at El Dorado County Jail in South Lake Tahoe.

Earlier this month, jail staff allegedly found Nissensohn looking at sexually explicit photos on a computer in a classroom at the jail he uses to examine case material.

During a Thursday hearing, defense attorney Tom Wirtz contended the photos are part of evidence Nissensohn is legally allowed to view to assist in his own defense.

But El Dorado County Deputy District Attorney Dale Gomes disagreed, saying the material is not part of the case’s discovery.

Nissensohn is charged with the 1989 killing of South Lake Tahoe 15-year-old Kathy Graves and the 1981 slayings of Seaside, Calif., teenagers Tammy Jarschke and Tonya Jones. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

In July 2008, Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury restricted Nissensohn’s access to sexually explicit police photos of the Monterey County crime scene to when defense attorneys are present. Gomes said he requested the restricted access to protect the victims and their families, as well as prevent Nissensohn from using the photos for sexual pleasure.

The photos Nissensohn allegedly viewed on the jail computer earlier this month did not include photos of the Monterey County crime scene, but were evidentiary photos showing nude or semi-nude photos of men and women.

The attorney said he asked Nissensohn to review the photos because he was the only one who could determine when and where they were taken, as well as who was pictured.

Nissensohn’s ex-wife, Cheryl Rose, is among the people in the photos. The photos could be used to show she did not live in fear of Nissensohn, Wirtz said.

But Gomes said the photos that jail staff saw Nissensohn view are not part of the discovery in the case.

The warrant will allow for the examination of the computer and a portable hard drive Nissensohn has been allowed to use to view case documents, Gomes said.

Inmates are typically required to view discovery via paper documents, but defense attorneys have been allowed to give Nissensohn the portable hard drive containing court files because of the large volume of documents in the case.

The prosecutor will use information gathered through the warrant to determine if Nissensohn violated jail rules, state law and possibly show deviant sexual proclivities by Nissensohn, such as rape fantasies, Gomes said.

How Nissensohn could gain access to explicit material not included in the discovery in the case is unclear. The computer at the jail does not have an Internet connection.