A marijuana cultivator pummeled and strangled his ex-girlfriend in her Huntington Beach home in a planned attack and should be convicted of first-degree murder, a prosecutor told jurors Monday, while the defendant’s attorney said the killing was not premeditated.
Jason Joseph Becher, 46, is charged with murder with a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait. If he is convicted of killing 50-year-old Marylou Sarkissian on Dec. 2, 2016, he will face life in prison without the possibility of parole, but jurors are expected to be able to consider lesser charges.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Janine Madera played for the jury enraged, expletive-filled voicemails the defendant left for the victim’s sister and her son accusing Sarkissian of infidelity and stealing money from him.
Becher illegally cultivated marijuana and sold it for cash only, accumulating so much money he stashed it Sarkissian’s home, and she put some of it in a safe deposit box, Madera said.
“I know about six times you cheated on me,” he said on one voicemail. “And then you ripped me off at the end… for like $500,000 …”
Sarkissian made large cash deposits for five years in a bank account she set up for him, the prosecutor said.
From 2013 through 2016, Sarkissian spent $261,000 over her reported income as a pharmaceutical representative, according to Madera, who said some of the money appears to have come from her father and child support for the mother of three children.
It’s possible the two had an agreement in which she would share in some of the profits, Madera said.
On Aug. 28, 2016, the victim called 911 and Madera played part of that dispatch for jurors. Sarkissian, who had received a restraining order against the defendant earlier that month, told a 911 dispatcher that he “pushed me, shoved me, choked me with a towel … held me hostage.”
That November, the two got together at a hotel, and the next day, the defendant texted her a message apologizing and asking for forgiveness. Becher pledged that he wanted to “grow old with you. I want to take care of you for the rest of your life” in one message.
“Then why can’t you control your violence,” Sarkissian responded. “My cheek is all swollen and I have bruises everywhere.”
Sarkissian put an end to the relationship right before Thanksgiving when she said she called police and told him, “You can’t terrorize me, choke me, suffocate me with a pillow and think it’s OK,” according to Madera.
Becher responded with more outraged voicemails demanding that she “return my (expletive) money, you understand? I ain’t playing (expletive) games with you anymore,” Madera said.
“At some point she blocked him and she was done with him,” the prosecutor said.
The next day, Sarkissian made an appointment to install a new security system, which was put in the evening before she was killed, Madera said.
Becher’s uncle, who is expected to testify, told police that his nephew said with a laugh as he was leaving his house the afternoon of Dec. 1 that “it’s going to be a bad day in Huntington Beach for Marylou,” Madera alleged.
Phone records show Becher was at the victim’s home about 11 p.m. that day, Madera said.
Investigators suspect that Becher unsuccessfully tried to break into the home with a crowbar, so, knowing Sarkissian’s patterns from living together, he waited for her to let her dog out and made his way in, Madera said.
The victim sustained multiple rib fractures, a broken nose and there is evidence she was strangled, Madera said, alleging the newly installed video surveillance in the home shows him cleaning up evidence.
Becher drove to his sister’s home in Oregon, but she and her husband talked him into turning himself in because there was a manhunt underway, Madera said.
Becher’s attorney, Irene Pai of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, said, “This case is not about who killed Marylou Sarkissian. Jason Becher killed Marylou Sarkissian. At the end of this case I’m also going to ask you to come back for a guilty verdict, but only for what he did.”
Pai said Becher did not go to Sarkissian’s house with any intent to kill her. Instead, she said, whenever he got to talk face to face with her about the finances of his illegal marijuana business, she ended up calming him down.
But Pai said there was “an explosion of anger that happened in that bedroom” that led to the victim’s death.
“I will not beg you to excuse or justify this killing,” Pai said. “The issue is what was he thinking at the time he inflicted blow after blow after blow that resulted in Marylou Sarkissian’s death. I’m not asking you to like Jason Becher. I’m not asking you to relate to him.”
But if Becher planned to kill his ex-girlfriend, he would have simply burst through the sliding glass door, “and he would have had a plan for what to do afterward,” Pai said. “This was the very picture of an explosion … of rage … not cold, not premeditated” murder.
Becher grew up in poverty with his family and was frugal despite raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars selling marijuana, Pai said.
There does not appear to be any agreement between the two to share profits, though he for a time trusted her to hold onto his money, the defense attorney said. But starting in July 2015, there is growing evidence she started skimming money, Pai said. Whenever Becher confronted her about stealing money and infidelity, she vehemently denied it, the attorney said.
Becher sustained a brain injury in a car crash when he was 12 years old and an expert is expected to testify about how it affected his ability to control his temper, Pai said.
Jurors are also expected to hear testimony from a prior conviction for domestic violence against another girlfriend in 2005.