On his 48th birthday, a sex offender Friday was sentenced to death for murdering four Orange County prostitutes in 2013.
Steven Dean Gordon, who acted as his own attorney, said during his trial that he fought for the right to defend himself so he could get the case finished faster, telling the jury that “if you kill four people like this in cold blood, you deserve to die. I believe that.”
Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue agreed and handed down the ultimate punishment after noting the defendant’s statements to authorities since his arrest, in which he requested the death penalty.
Gordon nevertheless made a motion for a new trial, arguing that juror misconduct and his investigator’s failure to track down witnesses affected his ability to get a fair trial.
Donahue denied the motion, noting that one witness the defendant had wanted to call couldn’t provide relevant information since prosecutors dropped the issue the witness would have testified about.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy said the “remedy” for witness unavailability would have been to delay the trial, while Gordon did not want.
Gordon wiped away tears at points when the mothers and a grandmother of the victims told Donahue how the murders affected them. Shortly after the hearing, however, he was smiling and laughing during a discussion with an attorney.
“My daughter was everything to me,” said Herlinda Salcedo, speaking through a translator about 28-year-old Martha Anaya.
“She was a good mother,” Salcedo said. “She was a responsible mother… She’s now left behind two children who were her responsibility. Every day when they ask about their mother, I tell them their mother is another star in the sky.”
Anaya’s 12-year-old sister, April Alvarez, wrote a letter to the judge that was read aloud in court.
“She told me to not talk to strangers. Now I know why,” the girl wrote.
Priscilla Vargas struggled through tears to make a statement to the judge about the loss of her daughter Josephine Vargas, who died at age 34.
“At this moment I could never forgive or forget you, but I hope God will,” she told her daughter’s killer.
Kathy Menzies, mother of 20-year-old victim Kianna Jackson, lamented how her daughter is not alive to see her brother graduate high school this year.
“I still have sleepless nights due to all of this,” Menzies said, adding that she misses her daughter’s “crazy, quirky” text messages.
“There will always be a part of the family missing,” Menzies said. “I feel the death penalty is the right sentence. What he did was disgusting and life-changing for so many.”
Menzies added that she forgave Gordon, but “not for you. I am doing it for my family so I can move on. I hope you, too, can forgive yourself and ask for God’s forgiveness.”
Jackson’s grandmother, Dianne Menzies, said, “I will always have an empty place in my heart now.”
She also felt the death penalty was appropriate, quoting a biblical verse, “the wages of sin are death.”
Jodi Estepp-Pier, the mother of 21-year-old Jarrae Nykkole Estepp, told the defendant, “She was beautiful and I’m so glad you can never do this to another woman ever again.”
Gordon apologized for his crimes.
“I am sorry for everything, but those are hollow words for what those women went through,” Gordon said.
He also took another public shot at his friend and co-defendant, 30-year- old Franc Cano, who is awaiting his own death penalty trial.
“They’re not going to get the answers they seek” in Cano’s trial, Gordon said of the victims’ families. “Like I said, Franc Cano is a coward.”
Gordon added, “I truly am sorry. I know it doesn’t mean anything, but I am sorry.”
The jury that convicted him on Dec. 15 deliberated for about four hours over two days before recommending that he be sent to death row. The jury also had the option of recommending that he spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
At his trial, Gordon said he called parole and probation officials to testify because he wanted them to also shoulder blame for the killings.
“I have no defense,” Gordon said of his crimes. “I put people up there who are as responsible as me and my co-defendant… I was attacking them because they didn’t do their job.”
Parole and probation officials came under fire after Gordon and Cano, another registered sex offender, were arrested because it appeared they had been socializing together, which would be against the rules. The defendants cut off their GPS devices and left the state at one point.
“I never said it was OK,” Gordon said of his spending time with Cano. “They gave us permission.”
Gordon admitted his involvement in most of the abduction murders, although he insisted Cano was the main culprit in hunting down and killing the victims.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin — who’s since been sworn in as a Superior Court judge — argued that Gordon was the “manipulator” and the “big brother” in the relationship between the convicted sex offenders.
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.
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, he said.
Yellin said 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.
— City News Service