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Trial begins for man accused of lying in wait and killing his ex-girlfriend in Huntington Beach

Jason Becher, 45, is charged with first-degree murder.
Jason Becher, 45, is charged with first-degree murder with a special circumstance of lying in wait in the 2016 death of his ex-girlfriend, Marylou Sarkissian of Huntington Beach.
(Courtesy of Huntington Beach Police Department)

Both the prosecution and the defense made opening statements Monday at Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana in the often-delayed murder trial of a man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend in Huntington Beach.

Jason Becher of Anaheim, now 46, is charged with first-degree murder with the special circumstance of lying in wait in the death of Marylou Sarkissian. She was 50 when she died just after midnight on Dec. 2, 2016, at her home on Litchfield Drive, when prosecutors allege Becher entered her house, strangled her and beat her to death.

With the addition of the special circumstance, he could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.

While public defender Irene Pai did not dispute that Becher killed Sarkissian, she said the evidence will show that it was a sudden act of rage instead of a planned murder.

Released text messages and phone records show that Becher and Sarkissian had been feuding for months when she died. Sarkissian, who shared custody of her three children with her ex-husband George Sarkissian, filed a restraining order against Becher in August 2016. That came after she alleged that Becher tried to choke her with a bath towel, until she pepper-sprayed him. Sarkissian’s sister, Debbie Zdrazil, also secured a restraining order against Becher, claiming that he was harassing her.

Sarkissian had a security system installed at her house just hours before she died, Deputy Dist. Atty. Janine Madera said.

Marylou Sarkissian, pictured with her three children Robert, Isabel and Ian.
Marylou Sarkissian, who was killed in her Huntington Beach home on Dec. 2, 2016, pictured with her three children Robert, Isabel and Ian.
(Courtesy of Debra Zdrazil)

Madera issued opening statements Monday that lasted about 80 minutes. She said that Becher lived with his family in Anaheim including his mother, his brother and two uncles.

Madera said the relationship between Becher and his ex-girlfriend would likely be the primary focus of the trial. She told jurors that they would hear from retired Huntington Beach policeman Philip Gasca, who had 45 years of experience, much of it focused on domestic violence.

“You’re going to learn certain things about these types of relationships and how they function,” Madera said. “There’s verbal and/or physical abuse, designed to control ... I believe the evidence will show that the defendant was a domestic violence abuser. Often seen in victims of domestic violence abusers are issues with self-image. They believe they can change their abuser. They sometimes minimize abuse, they sometimes recant abuse, and they sometimes reunite with their abuser. You will certainly see evidence, I anticipate, that Marylou Sarkissian did all of these things.”

The prosecuting attorney created a timeline to show jurors that evidence of Becher’s abuse started by June 2016, months before Sarkissian’s death. Voicemails left by Becher prior to the restraining orders accused Sarkissian of cheating on him and stealing his money.

“The messages are sometimes angry and hostile and threatening, and sometimes they take a somewhat kinder tone,” Madera said. “But they’re always emotionally manipulative, to try to get Marylou to come back to him.”

Yvette Martinez of the attorney general’s office said a decision on the future of the case against Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Laura Riley is “imminent.”

On the night of the murder, Madera said that Becher was in downtown Huntington Beach drinking with a friend before traveling to Sarkissian’s house. He attempted to break in with a crowbar but failed, Madera said, waiting before attacking Sarkissian when she let her dog out.

Several security camera videos from that night were shown to jurors, including one timestamped after Sarkissian’s death in which a man alleged to be Becher commented “How’d that work out for you?,” in regard to her new security system.

Pai painted a different picture of the former couple’s relationship during her opening statements. She acknowledged that Becher was in the house that night, even that he was waiting for an opportunity to talk to Sarkissian.

But Pai said that Becher was so angry because Sarkissian had been stealing thousands of dollars from his cash-only marijuana sales business. She showed videos of Sarkissian driving up to bank ATMs and depositing hundreds of dollars at a time.

“He wanted to know how much of the money was missing,” Pai said. “He doesn’t quite know, but he definitely knows that there’s money in the house and that if he talks to her, he’ll get clarification. He wanted that face-to-face conversation with her.”

Pai said that it was not a premeditated murder, but “an explosion of rage that happened in [Sarkissian’s] bedroom.”

“Every single item that was used to inflict injuries on Marylou was taken from the bedroom,” she said. “Dry cleaning bags, a hanger ... Is that a guy with an intent to kill from outside the bedroom? No way.”

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