SANTA ANA (FOX 11 / CNS) - A sex offender was convicted Thursday of murdering four Orange County prostitutes in a case that was cracked in part by the GPS monitor he was wearing during the killings as a result of his earlier felony conviction.
Steven Dean Gordon, 47, acted as his own attorney at his trial, admitting his involvement in most of the abduction murders, although he insisted his co-defendant, 30-year-old Franc Cano, was the main culprit in hunting down and killing the four victims.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin, however, argued that Gordon was the "manipulator'' and the ``big brother'' in the relationship between the convicted sex offenders.
Cano, also a convicted sex offender, is awaiting trial. Gordon's case will now shift to penalty phase, during which jurors will recommend either the death penalty or life in prison without parole. The penalty phase of the case will begin Monday.
Gordon was convicted of murdering 21-year-old Jarrae Nykkole Estepp, 20-year-old Kianna Jackson, 34-year-old Josephine Vargas and 28-year-old Martha Anaya.
Only Estepp's body was found. That discovery led to multiple clues tying Gordon and Cano to the other killings, with Yellin making his case on evidence from DNA, GPS-tracked movements of both defendants and their own statements to police.
Referring to Yellin's opening statement of the trial, Gordon told jurors, "Everything he said is 100 percent on target. I even complimented him after you (the jurors) left. He brought his A game.''
While discussing the killing of Jackson, who went missing on Oct. 6, 2013, Gordon said, "Franc and I went down to Santa Ana to pick up working girls. Not to kidnap or murder, but things escalated out of control, which led to the death of (Jackson) before her time.''
The next victim, Vargas, who was reported missing Oct. 24, 2013, became a target of the defendants, Gordon said.
"Yes, Franc and I went to Santa Ana to commit a murder and kidnapping, which led to the death (of Vargas) before her time,'' Gordon said.
Anaya, who went missing Nov. 12, 2013, was just a target of Cano's, Gordon said.
"Franc Cano went to Santa Ana (that night) to commit a rape and murder all by himself,'' Gordon said.
Gordon argued, "You can't prove I was there,'' because he claimed he was not wearing a GPS tracking device at that time.
Probation and parole officials came under fire in the case because the two defendants, who actually cut off their devices and left the state at one point, were supposed to be monitored, but authorities did not seem to notice they were associating with each other, which is typically a violation. Gordon claimed that someday the truth will come out that they had "permission'' to "hang around'' with each other.
As for Estepp's killing, Gordon said, "Yes, we went down to look for a
girl to kidnap and murder. Yes, on the drive back I had a change of heart on killing her.''
Gordon said, however, he could not stop his partner and, ``I failed her.''
Referring to testimony from a coroner that Estepp's attacker "stomped'' on her neck, Gordon said, "It wasn't me... I didn't stomp on Jarrae's neck. ... I saw what he did to her. I watched it.''
Gordon also argued that Cano tried to set him up by using his phone to send incriminating text messages to Cano's phone.
"He knew of my intent of letting her go, that's my belief,'' Gordon said.
"I could have blamed him (Cano) for everything,'' Gordon said.
"Our intent on these nights were beyond evil,'' the defendant added. "No doubt about it. Yes, I changed my mind about killing (Estepp), but it doesn't matter because I (screwed) up.''
Yellin told jurors no one will ever truly know what happened when the victims were attacked. The details of who was driving and who was in the back seat hiding when they picked up prostitutes and ambushed them will remain in dispute, Yellin said.
But he said a killing resulting from a kidnapping is "automatically murder.''
Yellin pointed out the two were so savvy about their restrictions as sex offenders that they avoided straying too far from areas they were allowed to visit, to prevent the GPS-tracking devices from being triggered. There was also evidence they used hoses at the auto body shop where they took their victims to wash evidence from the bodies, Yellin said.
Yellin brushed off Gordon's arguments on the mistakes authorities made in tracking the sex offenders as "white noise'' that was irrelevant to the decisions jurors must make.
At the beginning of the trial, Yellin compared the Gordon and Cano to the sharks in "Jaws,'' but in his closing argument, Yellin said that was an "insult to the sharks.''
"These guys not only did horrible things -- killing, multiple sexual assaults -- they also psychologically terrorized (the victims). They gave them hope, 'if you just do this we'll let you go,''' the prosecutor said.
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