LOCAL

State parole officials probe monitoring of accused O.C. serial killers

Justice SystemLaws and LegislationCourts and the JudiciaryHomicideCrimeDarrell Steinberg
4 women, maybe 5, are believed to be victims in O.C. serial killings
Lawmaker's staff says a request to probe monitoring of O.C. serial killing suspects isn't ready

California parole officials have launched an internal inquiry into how closely state agents supervised two sex offenders who are accused of killing four women, and possibly a fifth, while being tracked on GPS.

However, a state Senate leader has yet to request the independent investigation that he said he would seek a month ago, and federal court officials who also supervised the accused killers and tracked the movements of one of them have refused to discuss their accountability.

"I don't understand how they could go for months without being caught or being under suspicion," said Jesse Fisher, the boyfriend of Martha Anaya, a 28-year-old Orange County woman who is believed to be the third victim. Fisher said the possibility that two felons killed four or more women while supposedly under close supervision deserves scrutiny.

"When two guys are like that together, shouldn't alarms be ringing?"

Orange County transients Steven Gordon and Franc Cano, both of whom spent time in prison for sex crimes, were under dual state and federal supervision and wearing state-issued electronic monitors in 2013, when they are accused of killing the first two victims, women who frequented a tough area of Santa Ana known for prostitution.

Cano remained on state monitoring, but Gordon had recently finished parole and was put on federal GPS monitoring Nov. 12, 2013, the same day that Anaya was raped and killed, prosecutors say. Gordon objected to the close supervision in a federal court hearing that day.

"Two days I've been without the monitor, and I showed up in your courtroom to show you guys that I am here to do what I am supposed to do, two days that I could have went and done anything," Gordon told a federal judge, according to a transcript of the hearing.

The nude body of a fourth victim, Jarrae Estepp, was found March 14 on the conveyor belt of an Anaheim trash facility, not far from the commercial dumpster where the men allegedly disposed of her body, and blocks from the state parole office where Cano reported to his agent and that Gordon once used as his mailing address.

Anaheim police say that they believe there was a fifth victim and are trying to identify her. So far, only Estepp's body has been recovered.

California had vowed in recent years to increase supervision of sex offenders after a string of embarrassing cases, including the revelation that first federal and then state parole agents for 18 years failed to realize that Oakland sex offender Phillip Garrido had kidnapped a girl and was holding her hostage in his backyard.

State corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said a parole administrator from outside Southern California is conducting a "thorough case management review" into Gordon and Cano's supervision, "as with any high-profile case like this."

The department has refused to release its supervision files for Cano and Gordon, including parole records that are public by law, citing the investigation.

Shortly after Cano and Gordon were arrested in April, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said he would seek an independent investigation by the Office of Inspector General. Steinberg's staff said this week that the request — also covering broader issues of how all sex offenders are supervised — was not finished but would be ready soon.

Federal court officials in Los Angeles refused to discuss their supervision of Cano and Gordon, or whether the probation department's role in the deaths will be investigated. Both men were placed on federal probation after they cut off their state-issued GPS monitors in 2012 and fled to Las Vegas.

"We do not respond to the media," Douglas Bys, chief deputy for probation, said recently as he walked out of the federal courthouse.

Chief Judge George King did not respond to requests for comment, and Chief Probation Officer Michelle Carey said all questions must go through the federal court system's press office in Washington.

There is no independent oversight of the federal court system's probation offices. Those offices answer to chief judges in 94 court districts and in turn to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. As part of the federal court system, federal probation offices are not subject to public records laws.

When a New York man awaiting trial on child pornography charges last year cut off his GPS tracker, killed a librarian and raped her daughter, an internal federal review was sought within five days by the chief judge in that district. The report delivered a month later showed that federal probation officers in the Syracuse office disregarded most tampering alerts, including 46 triggered by the killer, David Renz, during the three months he was on federal supervision.

Chief Judge Gary Sharpe said he decided to release the otherwise confidential report because "I believe our federal courts and all public institutions are immeasurably strengthened by their openness to public scrutiny."

Court officials said "certain probation office personnel" in Syracuse were dismissed or demoted and other probation staff retrained. Even so, broader actions that were taken remained largely confidential.

Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.) complained in a letter to federal court officers that it "is unclear to me who should investigate the apparent gross negligence by the Syracuse probation office and who can hold them accountable in the future."

On Tuesday, Maffei added: "It is extremely frustrating to not be able to get answers when you have such a clear reason for asking questions."

Maffei has filed legislation that would create independent oversight of federal probation offices and national standards on the use of electronic monitoring.

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Justice SystemLaws and LegislationCourts and the JudiciaryHomicideCrimeDarrell Steinberg
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