The Homicide Unit consists of the most experienced trial Deputy District Attorneys in the office. The unit prosecutes murder and voluntary manslaughter cases.
Murder is the intentional killing of another human being with a state of mind called malice aforethought. Murder can be in the first or second degree and the punishments range from life in prison to the death penalty. The murder cases also include the killing of victims by defendants that drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, also known as Watson Murder.
On any homicide case in which a defendant is eligible for the death penalty a special circumstances committee meeting is held by the District Attorney prior to a determination on whether the office intends to seek the death penalty.
This meeting includes;
- The Chief Assistant District Attorney
- Senior Assistant District Attorneys
- Assistant District Attorneys in charge of the Homicide and Gang Units
- Prosecutors experienced in capital cases
The special circumstances committee discusses the defendant’s criminal record, the nature of the crime, vulnerability of the victim, and other relevant factors-- including information provided by the defense attorney and the victim’s family. The District Attorney then decides whether to pursue the death penalty.
Second degree murder is an intentional killing without premeditation or deliberation, or an unintentional killing that was the result of a dangerous act done with a conscious disregard for human life.
Manslaughter is when a defendant commits an intentional killing done in the heat of passion or while acting in imperfect self-defense.
People v. Fran Cano
On March 14, 2014 at 10:38 AM, Anaheim Police Officers were called to the recycling center in the 1100 block of N. Blue Gum Street to investigate the discovery of a deceased female, who was located by employees. Anaheim Homicide Detectives responded to continue investigation when evidence at the scene indicated the female, later identified as Jarrae Nykkole Estepp, 21, Resident of Oklahoma, had likely been murdered.
Homicide Detectives from the Santa Ana Police Department contacted APD with information about three additional women, reported missing from their city. The missing women from Santa Ana have been identified as follows:
- Kianna Jackson, 20, Resident of Las Vegas.
She was last seen in Santa Ana on October 6, 2013.
- Josephine Vargas, 34, Resident of Santa Ana. She was last seen in Santa Ana on October 24, 2013.
- Martha Anaya, 28, Resident of Santa Ana. She was last seen in Santa Ana on November 12, 2013.
The victims were all prostitutes, and were working in known areas of prostitution. Both Franc Cano and Steven Gordon (co-defendant presently on death row) were on parole and were required to wear GPS monitors on their ankles during some of the murders. Overlaying GPS records from the defendant’s ankle bracelets with cell site information from the victims’ cellphones revealed that one or both of the defendants intersected with each of the victims shortly before the victims disappeared.
Cellphone records of the defendants showed they texted one another messages suggestive of a plan to kill Jarrae after finishing with their sexual assaults.
People v. Samuel Woodward
On January 3, 2018 Gideon and Jeanne Bernstein reported their 19 year old son, Blaze Bernstein missing. They last saw him at home on the evening of January 2, 2018 at around 8pm. Blaze missed a dentist appointment with his mother at 2pm. When she attempted his cell phone it went straight to voicemail. The parents went to his room and located his glasses, car keys and wallet. Gideon accessed Blaze’s Tinder and Snapchat accounts and found messages from an individual named Samuel Woodward. Gideon phoned Mr. Woodward and found out that he was with Blaze on January 2, 2018. OCSD contacted Defendant, via phone, on January 3, 2018 at around 10:30pm. Defendant told the deputy that he and Blaze were on Snapchat and the two decided to meet. He drove to Blaze’s home, 2 Pallazo Circle in the City of Lake Forest. The two men hung out and decided to go to Borrego Park. After arriving at the park Blaze left his vehicle and walked into the park. After waiting an hour for Blaze to return Defendant left the park and went to his girlfriend’s home in Tustin. Defendant returned to the park to look for him at around 3 a.m. Defendant said he knew Blaze as they both attended Orange County School of the Arts for two years. Defendant was re-contacted by OCSD on January 4, 2018. Defendant gave a similar story, however, in this version he stated while inside his car, Blaze attempted to kiss him. The kiss was un-wanted. When questioned about his “girlfriend,” Defendant was unable to give her last name, what her cell phone number was or her address. On January 9, 2018, Blaze Bernstein’s body was discovered buried in Borrego Park. Investigators observed numerous stab wounds to the victim’s neck. On January 10, 2018, search warrants were served to search the defendant’s pending case Newport Beach home and defendant’s Silver Nissan Rogue. The search located a red sleeping bag with apparent blood inside of it, blood evidence on the sun-visor of defendant’s car, and a sock with apparent blood stains located inside the car. DNA testing performed on the sleeping bag, and the bloody sock came back as matching the DNA profile of victim Blaze Bernstein. The DNA collected from the sun visor came back as a mixture (Defendant’s was the major contributor / the victim was the minor). Defendant was arrested and is pending trial.
People v. Eric Scott Sills
Defendant, Dr. Eric Sills called 911 after claiming to have found his wife, Susann Sills , on the staircase of their home. The forensic autopsy revealed ligature strangulation caused her death despite the defendant’s claim that she must have fallen. Text messages showed the victim was unhappy with the defendant and had threatened to leave him. Defendant’s teenage son stated he heard an argument between his parents during the night. Crime Scene Investigators located a mixture of both the victim’s and defendant’s blood in the room where the argument took place.