SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) – Jurors took just an hour Thursday to convict a California sex offender of killing four women – crimes that were mostly committed while he was being tracked by GPS and that now make him eligible for a death sentence.
Victims’ relatives clutched hands in the Orange County courtroom and closed their eyes while the guilty verdicts against Steven Dean Gordon were read. Some trembled and some cried.
“I can’t say it’s justice but it’s peace. It’s a little bit of peace,” Jodi Estepp, the mother of victim Jarrae Nykkole Estepp, told The Associated Press outside the courtroom.
Gordon himself showed no emotion in court.
Jurors also found true special circumstances of murder during a kidnapping and multiple murders, which will make Gordon eligible for a death sentence.
A penalty phase will begin Monday where jurors will decide whether to recommend a death sentence or life in prison without parole.
Authorities said the 47-year-old Gordon and 30-year-old sex offender Franc Cano, who is being tried separately, abducted and killed four women. Prosecutors charged both men with rape but later dropped the rape charges against Gordon without explanation.
Investigators said they pieced together the case after the body of the missing 21-year-old Jarrae Estepp was found at a recycling center in Anaheim. Authorities said the men’s tracking devices linked them to the disappearance of the women.
Jodi Estepp said Thursday that she feels her daughter’s death was not in vain, because her body led to the men’s capture.
“I just wish they would have let her go,” she said. “It’s difficult to say, very difficult to say… but their killing her got closure for those other families – and they can’t kill again.”
Gordon, who represented himself at trial, confessed to authorities in an interview played for jurors about his role in the killings.
Gordon and Cano were registered sex offenders after being convicted in separate cases of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14. Gordon was convicted in 1992 and also has a 2002 kidnapping conviction, while Cano’s conviction dates back to 2008.
At the time of the killings, Gordon was living in an RV in an industrial area of Anaheim where the men brought their victims and wore a GPS device during at least three of the murders, according to grand jury testimony.
Authorities charged the men with killing three women who went missing in Santa Ana in late 2013 – Kianna Jackson, 20, Josephine Monique Vargas, 34 and Martha Anaya, 28 – in addition to Estepp. All four women had links to prostitution.
Police believe Cano and Gordon knew each other since at least 2010, when Cano cut off his GPS device and fled to Alabama, where he was arrested with Gordon. Two years later, they again cut off their monitoring devices and boarded a Greyhound bus to Las Vegas using fake names before being arrested two weeks later by federal agents.
Cano has pleaded not guilty. His next court appearance is Dec. 29.