Suspected serial killer admits to murders of 4 women in Anaheim, sentenced to life in prison

Franc Cano, who has been in custody since 2014, was immediately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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Friday, December 16, 2022
Suspected serial killer admits to murders of 4 women in Anaheim
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A 36-year-old sex offender pleaded guilty Thursday to the kidnapping, rape and killings of four Orange County women in Anaheim.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- A 36-year-old sex offender pleaded guilty Thursday to the kidnapping, rape and killings of four Orange County women in Anaheim.

Franc Cano, who has been in custody since April 2014, was immediately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Prosecutors were originally seeking the death penalty, but announced to Cano's defense team last week that due to newly revealed mitigating factors, capital punishment was no longer being considered in the case. That decision led to Thursday's guilty plea from Cano.

He admitted to the 2013 killings of 34-year-old Josephine Vargas and 20-year-old Kianna Jackson, and the 2014 killings of 28-year-old Martha Anaya and 21-year-old Jarrae Nykkole Estepp. Authorities said the women were working as prostitutes.

"Today, I, Franc Cano, take full responsibility for my own previous actions," Cano said. "I'm deeply and remorsefully sorry for the deep wound I have caused all of you. Four precious lives were lost due to my unacceptable and negligible actions."

Cano's co-defendant, Steven Dean Gordon, 53, was convicted of the killings in 2016 and sentenced to death the following year. Gordon acted as his own attorney during his trial, and ultimately conceded that he deserved the death penalty for the killings.

Only Estepp's body was ever found. That discovery led to clues tying Gordon and Cano to the other killings, with prosecutors relying on DNA and evidence of the pair's movements from GPS-tracking devices they were wearing due to prior sex offenses.

Parole and probation officials drew criticism in the case because Gordon and Cano, who were both registered sex offenders, were socializing together, which is a violation of their terms of release. The defendants also cut off their GPS devices and left the state at one point. It was not immediately clear what circumstances led prosecutors to drop the death penalty for Cano.

In a Dec. 7 letter to Cano's attorney, Chuck Hasse of the Orange County Public Defender's Office, prosecutors informed him that the District Attorney's Office was no longer pursing the death penalty against Cano. Earlier this year, Hasse had asked the District Attorney's Office to review the death penalty decision based on "new mitigation,'' according to the letter.

"We did our due diligence," said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. "We exercised good judgment, we took all the factors into consideration and our legal community, if you will, as prosecutors and the victims' came to the same conclusion."

During Gordon's trial, Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin compared Gordon and Cano to the shark in "Jaws,'' but in his closing argument, Yellin said that was an "insult to the sharks.''

"These guys not only did horrible things -- killing, multiple sexual assaults -- they also psychologically terrorized (the victims). They gave them hope, If you just do this we'll let you go,''' the prosecutor said.

Kathy Branson, the mother of Kianna Jackson, spoke out and said, "I feel that life without parole is the right punishment. It saves Kianna's family from having to sit through another trial and listen to the disgusting things that Mr. Cano did."

The other victims' families also addressed their loved ones' killer.

"I'm not crying today because I'm not wasting one more emotion. I wanted justice. We got that," said Jarrae Estepp's mother Jodi Pier-Estepp.

Melody Anaya, Marth Anaya's daughter, said, "I have so much anger in my heart and I know my mom's passing is the main reason why. Her and all the women didn't deserve what he did."

"When you did this to her, when he did this to her, I have had this anger in my heart that I cannot find a way to forgive and move on from this pain because this pain is just constantly there," said Jarrae Estepp's aunt Yolanda Hull. "I just want him to look at my face and I hope when you take your last breath you see every woman's face."

Josephine Vargas' mother and sister also addressed Cano but wished for privacy.

Prosecutors said they believe the remains of the three victim's whose bodies were never found are in the Brea landfill.

However, due to how much time has passed, they do not plan to search for their remains.

City News Service, Inc. contributed to this report.