SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — An accused serial killer and rapist who is representing himself at trial told jurors that his “hunt for the truth” began Wednesday as he called witnesses in his defense.
It didn’t go well: Steven Dean Gordon’s first witness recalled the defendant admitting he had killed someone as he was led away in handcuffs.
“You told me,`I’m a piece of (expletive). I killed someone.’ And you said I would probably never see you again,” testified Jerry Montgomery, the manager of an auto repair shop where Gordon did odd jobs.
Before Gordon’s opening statement to jurors, Senior Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin moved to dismiss the rape charges against the defendant.
During a break in the proceedings he declined to say why he would drop those charges. But the allegations could still come into play during a penalty phase as prosecutors seek the ultimate punishment for Gordon.
Gordon, 47, still faces special circumstance allegations for multiple murders and kidnapping that make him eligible for the death penalty.
In his opening statement to jurors, Gordon appeared to try to put the blame for the four prostitutes’ murders he is charged with on his co-defendant, Franc Cano, 30, who is set to go on trial later.
Gordon noted that one dismissed juror called the defendant “stupid and arrogant” for acting as his own attorney.
“While I disagree with that wholeheartedly, only cowards hide behind their attorneys,” Gordon said.
The defendant wants to call Cano to testify in the trial, but Cano could cite his constitutional right against self-incrimination and not have to testify.
Gordon said he would also have probation and parole officers testify.
Testimony from those officials is expected Thursday.
“In no way am I a saint,” Gordon told jurors. “But I have a conscience. (Cano) does not. He’s a predator.”
Referring to lewd text messages Yellin referred to earlier in the trial, Gordon said, “(Yellin) called it beyond offensive. I would agree.”
But then Gordon indicated he would try to prove that Cano might have used Gordon’s phone to make it appear as if they had an incriminating conversation together.
He noted three text messages appeared to be exchanged at the same time.
“I think that’s hard to do unless someone was using both phones,” Gordon said.
Gordon pointed to a terse exchange about “those poor cats,” which Yellin alleged was code for the victims, with the defendant responding, “We have nothing to talk about.”
Gordon said he has 30 pages of text messages that he exchanged with others and “nowhere in those text messages do you see me talking like this to anyone else,” he added, referring to the lewd talk about women.
Gordon also cited numerous text messages Cano allegedly had with another registered sex offender, which included lewd discussions about women, including a psychologist involved in their post-release therapy.
Referring to what he would discuss in therapy, Cano allegedly told another friend, “I’m not going to incriminate myself,” according to Gordon.
“I’ve got an effin beer waiting for me. I hope I get a broad. That’s my co-defendant,” Gordon said, referring to one alleged text message from Cano.
Gordon also complained about one series of text messages Cano allegedly sent to a friend about punishing Gordon’s dog for knocking over his coffee.
“Anybody who could hurt animals and kill somebody without a conscience is a predator,” Gordon said.
Gordon also discussed a text-message exchange with Cano about his sister-in-law.
“His brother has a good looking wife so I made a comment I’d like to be with her,” Gordon said. “I said, `I will share her with you.’ And he said,`That’s OK because I want Emily.’ Remember that word Emily because you’re going to hear it tomorrow,” Gordon said.
“This is not about the murder of four women,” Gordon added. “This is about the murder of five, maybe six. Five for sure. Six? You’ll have to ask him. This is something that shouldn’t have happened, but unfortunately it did.”
Referring to the last victim, Gordon said, “What happened March 14 was horrifying and I will forever remember what happened to Jarrae (Nykkole Estepp). Now begins my hunt for the truth and why.”
Gordon questioned Montgomery, his first witness, on whether he was aware of any “tension” between the defendant and Cano, but Montgomery couldn’t recall any. Gordon referred to one evening when he explained to Montgomery how he got a bloody lip in a fight with Cano.
“Were you aware of any tension between me and Franc?” Gordon asked.
“I don’t really remember any,” Montgomery said following a long pause.
Gordon is charged with killing Estepp, 21, the only victim whose body was found, as well as 20-year-old Kianna Jackson, 34-year-old Josephine Vargas and 28-year-old Martha Anaya.
Cano, 30, of Anaheim, also could face the death penalty.
Investigators recovered Estepp’s remains on March 14, 2014, at an Anaheim recycling facility. Prior to that discovery, Santa Ana detectives were stumped about the other three missing women, Yellin said.
Jackson was the first to be reported missing — on Oct. 6, 2013 — when her mother could not reach her anymore on the phone, Yellin said. Next to be reported missing was Vargas on Oct. 24, 2013, Yellin said.
“Her family reported her missing,” he said. “They put up fliers — again, nothing — no bank activity, no credit card activity.”
Anaya went missing Nov. 12, 2013.
A discarded caulking tube under Estepp’s body offered detectives their first important clue, Yellin said.
Investigators tracked it to Boss Body and Paint, 3421 E. La Palma Ave., where Gordon parked his RV and sometimes worked odd jobs, according to the prosecutor.
A tampon found on Estepp, meanwhile, contained DNA that turned out to match Cano and Gordon, Yellin said.
Detectives managed to calculate the time the body was dumped at the facility, and investigators checked the time against the movements of the defendants, who were both on GPS monitoring due to their previous convictions.
Since Estepp appeared to have been raped, Detective Julissa Trapp sifted through computer records containing the movements of registered sex offenders, leading her to Cano, whose GPS device indicated he was near the area
where Estepp’s body was dumped, Yellin said.
Trapp called Santa Ana police, who provided phone records on their missing person cases, Yellin said. And when they compared the GPS-recorded movements of Cano and the other three victims, investigators saw a pattern, Yellin said.
Another detective realized that Cano and Gordon often hung out together.
Investigators asked Cano to come in for questioning and collected his DNA for the first time from a water bottle he drank from, Yellin said.
Other investigators followed Gordon and picked up a wad of discarded gum to get his DNA, Yellin said.
He noted that neither man’s DNA was previously in the legal database, despite their earlier convictions on sex crimes.
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