Monthly Archives: February 2013

Prosecutor: Killer is ‘worst of the worst’

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Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy shows the jury the wedding photo of Kent and Malinda Gibbons during the trial of Jason Balcom in March 2012. PAUL BERSEBACH, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

SANTA ANA – A convicted rapist serving a 50-year term in a Michigan prison deserves the death penalty in California for the sexual assault and murder of a pregnant Costa Mesa housewife nearly 25 years ago, an Orange County prosecutor argued Monday.

Jason Michel Balcom, now 43, is a narcissistic, psychopathic sadist who sexually assaulted four women during a three-month span in the summer of 1988 shortly after he was released from a juvenile detention facility, Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy said.

One of those victims, Malinda Godfrey Gibbons, was bound, gagged and stabbed to death in her apartment, Murphy said.

“He is the worst of the worst,” Murphy said in his closing argument of Balcom’s second penalty-phase trial.

Defense attorney Dolores Yost told the jury in the beginning of her summation that Balcom, who was 18 when the crime spree occurred, was raised by an unfit mother who was likely mentally ill and prone to episodes of inappropriate, intense anger. She said Balcom was sexually and emotionally abused as a child.

Yost contended that because of Balcom’s childhood, there is “substantial and important mitigation” in his case that calls for a life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence. Yost will finish her final argument Tuesday.

Balcom, in prison for more than two decades for a September 1988 rape in Battle Creek, Mich., was convicted by an Orange County jury last year of special-circumstances murder for killing Gibbons, 22, during a sexual assault, robbery and burglary.

But that jury deadlocked, 10-2, in favor of death during the penalty phase, setting the stage for Balcom’s second penalty phase. The only decision for this jury will be to recommend whether Balcom receives the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

Police reports and news accounts show Gibbons was 22 and pregnant in the summer of 1988, when she and her husband moved from Utah into a Costa Mesa apartment to start their life together. She was, her brother said, “the sweetest person in the world.”

But a few days later – on July 18, 1988 – Kent Gibbons returned home from work and found the semi-nude body of his wife. She had been bound and gagged with his ties, stabbed in the chest and sexually assaulted. The case was unsolved for more than 25 years.

In 2004, the Michigan state crime lab contributed to a national DNA database of convicted felons, allowing Costa Mesa police detectives to compare genetic materials recovered from Gibbons’ body to past and present Michigan inmates. Balcom was a match.

Murphy told the jury that the aggravating factors involved in Gibbons’ murder, the violent attacks on the other three women and the lingering devastation to those who cared about Gibbons warrants a death verdict.



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Man injured in Fullerton shooting believed to be gang-related

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Fullerton Police investigate after a male juvenile was shot on Pearl Drive near Cameo Lane Tuesday night in Fullerton. He was rushed to UCI Medical Center.

FULLERTON – A man was injured Tuesday night during a shooting in Fullerton that police believe to have been gang-related.

Police shortly after 8 p.m. responded to reports of shots fired on the east side of Fullerton.

The officers found a man suffering from a gunshot wound to the arm in an apartment complex east of Garnet Lane and North Placentia Avenue, Fullerton police Lt. John Siko said.

The man was taken to UCI Medical Center in Orange. His injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.

Police say the victim has gang ties, leading them to believe that the shooting is gang-related.

“We think there was some type of fight in the street and that tipped off the shooting,” Siko said.

Witnesses reported seeing a Nissan Altima with tinted windows speeding out of the area after the shooting. A description of the shooter wasn’t available.

Authorities are asking anyone with information to contact the Fullerton Police Department’s gang unit at 714-773-5758.



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Driver crashes through wall into Lake Forest backyard

LAKE FOREST – A 19-year-old suspected of drunken driving crashed through a wall and into a backyard off Muirlands Boulevard early Sunday, authorities said.

At about 12:34 a.m., a 2002 Ford Ranger pickup truck smashed through a wall at the corner of Dylan Avenue and Muirlands Boulevard and rolled over into a yard on Big Timber Street, sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Keller said.

Driver Chad Wiley admitted to being under the influence at the time of the crash, Keller said.

Two or more passengers fled the scene, he said.

Wiley was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. He was cited and released at 2 p.m. Sunday, according to arrest records.



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Warrants will aid search for connections in shooting

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Tustin police investigators on Feb. 20 talked with construction workers who were near where Ali Syed, 20, is believed to have exited the 55 freeway at Edinger Avenue after carjacking two vehicles Feb. 19. He is believed to have stopped at a construction site and shot Jeremy Lewis, 26, who was in his truck.

TUSTIN – Police are investigating any connection between slain construction worker Jeremy Lewis and the 20-year-old man accused of last week’s shooting rampage.

A judge over the weekend issued a search warrant for the phone records of Lewis in the case of Ali Syed, who police believe killed a 20-year-old woman at his parents’ home in Ladera Ranch before embarking on a string of carjackings and shootings through several Orange County cities.

Tustin police expect to receive the phone records early this week and will look for anything that could establish a relationship between Syed and Lewis, Lt. Paul Garavan said.

“Hopefully, that’ll give us some better direction,” he said.

A motive for the early morning crime spree on Feb. 19 has remained a mystery. Investigators from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s computer-forensics lab already are examining the computers and phone records of Syed and Courtney Aoki, the first victim.

No information about what Aoki was doing in the home or how the two knew each other has been released.

Any connection between Syed, who police say killed himself, and the two other victims is also unknown.

Authorities said Syed killed 69-year-old Melvin Lee Edwards before stealing his car. The chairman of a Santa Ana-based aerospace manufacturing company was on his way to work. Lewis, 26, was shot while sitting in his vehicle near the construction site where he worked.

The Orange County coroner’s office has completed autopsies on the four, but officials are waiting for the results of toxicology reports.



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Unit of oil giant BP sues Lake Forest councilman

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Adam Nick, Lake Forest city councilman

LAKE FOREST – A division of oil giant British Petroleum has sued a Lake Forest city councilman, owner of a local gas station, for more than $177,000.

Arco franchiser BP West Coast Products filed a lawsuit Feb. 14 claiming businessman Adam Nick defaulted on his contract by selling non-Arco gas under the Arco name at his Lake Forest Drive gas station.

The lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, alleges Nick owes more than $104,000 for ending the contract early, as well as an additional $73,000 for gasoline, equipment and fees.

Steve Berger, Nick’s attorney, dismissed the lawsuit Monday as “frivolous.”

“This is so outrageous,” Berger said. “He doesn’t owe them a penny.”

The law firm representing BP West Coast Products did not respond to calls for comment.

Nick signed a contract in 2002 to operate the Arco AM/PM at 20572 Lake Forest Drive through late 2013.

According to Nick, Arco in 2009 offered him “nearly half a million dollars” to extend his contract, but he refused.

“From that point forth, our relationship went south,” Nick said.

Arco delayed shipments of fuel to the station or refused to send it at all, Nick said.

In less than three months, he ran out of gas nine times, he said. To keep the business going, he sold non-Arco gas.

“That is not in dispute,” Nick said.

In April 2011, Nick said he cut off the contract.

The lawsuit alleges Nick defaulted on the agreement, putting him on the hook for more than $104,000 in fees in connection with the contract’s termination.

Berger said Arco would bring gas later than it was requested, when the price had risen, to extract more money from Nick.

In addition, the company claims Nick owes about $73,000 more for gasoline, retail software, cashier equipment and royalty fees.

Nick, a longtime Lake Forest resident who emphasized his business experience during his election campaign, called the timing of the lawsuit “suspect.”

He accused the company of waiting until he became a public official to file the lawsuit, nearly two years after the contract ended.

The business is now a 76 ConocoPhillips station.

“We’re going to fight them tooth and nail,” Nick’s attorney, Berger, said. “If we hadn’t gotten rid of Arco they would’ve put (Nick) out of business with their ridiculous business practices.”



If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.


Mother of man at center of rampage appears in court

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Followed by her attorney, Vincent J. LaBarbera Jr., Sarwat Syed walks out of Orange County Superior Court with her hood over her head and a tissue against her face. She had just concluded an appearance before Judge Gregg Prickett, Superior Court of California, in a hearing related to her own hit-and-run case. Syed is the mother of Ali Syed, the man behind a deadly shooting spree that ended when he took his own life, authorities said.

SANTA ANA – The mother of a 20-year-old who authorities say went on a killing, carjacking and shooting spree across Orange County last week, leaving four dead, appeared in court Monday in her own hit-and-run case.

Sarwat Syed, 43, and her family is “searching for answers themselves, and they’re searching for meaning themselves in these tragic events,” said her attorney Vincent LaBarbera Jr. after Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett set another pretrial date for Syed for April 15.

Authorities say her son Ali Syed, 20, carried out last week’s rampage that began at his parents’ Ladera Ranch home and ended in Orange when he killed himself. A motive for the Feb. 19 crimes has remained elusive.

“The Syeds are victims in this case just as much as other people are victims,” said LaBarbera, after Sarwat Syed made a 60-second appearance, hiding her face with tissue and leaving immediately afterward with a hood pulled over her head as television cameras tried to catch a glimpse of her. “I know we all try to seek a meaning. We all try to connect the dots.”

His client and her husband have been trying to make sense of the events, the defense attorney said.

“They’re at a loss to understand what happened,” LaBarbera said.

“Their son was a gentle boy,” the couple has told him, he said. “He never appeared to be somebody who had any violent tendencies. He was a loving son. They’re absolutely stunned.”

In her unrelated case, Sarwat Syed is accused of leaving the scene of a June 20, 2011, crash on northbound 405 freeway near Laguna Canyon Road. If convicted of felony hit-and-run, she faces a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

Ava O’Connor, 4, of Orange, who was a passenger in the other car, underwent a nine-hour operation to fix her jaw, upper palate, eye sockets and nose, her father said then. She was in a coma for 12 days and spent nearly a month in a hospital.

Robert O’Connor, who also attended Monday’s hearing, said he screamed when he heard Sarwat Syed’s name on the news in connection with last week’s rampage.

“It sent shivers up my spine that it’d be the same family,” he said.

His daughter, now 6, is getting better, is in first grade, goes to dance practice, but has had four or five surgeries so far, O’Connor said.

“It was chilling to hear (Sarwat Syed’s) voice in a 911 call,” he said.

In a frantic 911 call authorities released last week, Syed sounded out of breath as she reported hearing a gunshot in her home while an alarm is heard in the background.

“Our hearts go out to families who were devastated by last week’s massacre,” O’Connor said. “Our daughter’s a different case. We don’t want those people forgotten.”



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Authorities identify man found in water off Newport Beach

NEWPORT BEACH – Authorities have identified a man whose body was found in the water at a Newport Beach jetty.

Orange County coroner’s office officials Monday evening said Pedro Ruiz, 82, of Costa Mesa is the man who was found in the water at the base of the 40th Street jetty about 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Officers responding to reports of a dead man on the rocks at the water line pulled Ruiz onto shore.

Ruiz was fully clothed and appeared to have been in the water for only a short period, a police statement said.

The coroner’s office estimates that Ruiz died about 1:30 p.m.

Authorities are awaiting the results of an autopsy scheduled for later this week to determine the official cause of Ruiz’s death.

Police say there were no obvious signs of trauma on Ruiz’s body, leading them to say that foul play is not suspected.

Police are asking anyone with information to contact Newport Beach police Detective Garrett Fitzgerald at 949-644-3797.



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