A Santa Ana jury today recommended the death penalty today for a man who'd been serving a 30- to 50-year sentence for rape in Michigan when he was linked to the 1988 assault and murder of a pregnant, 22-year-old newlywed in Costa Mesa.
Jason Balcom, 42, is now set to be formally sentenced by Judge Francisco Briseno on June 14 in Santa Ana.
Kent and Malinda Gibbons, had just moved to Orange County fro Utah in 1988 when he went off to work and she stayed in their apartment to unpack. Then-18-year-old Balcom, who lived on the same street a quarter mile away, broke in and bound the woman, who was six weeks pregnant, with her husband's ties and belts. He would throw her on the carpet before choking, raping and fatally stabbing her in the heart. Balcom then left with her purse and the wedding ring that had been on her finger.
The husband would return home from work to a sight no one would wish on their worst enemy: his brutally murdered new bride, with her pants down around her ankles. Costa Mesa police investigators would collect semen from the carpet, Melinda's thigh and her anus.
At the time of the Gibbons murder investigation, there was no national DNA database, but there was in 1999 when the substance on swabs collected from the murder scene were entered. Because of Balcom's later conviction in Michigan, his DNA was taken. In 2004, the database revealed the Gibbons case DNA matched Balcom's. He was later extradited from his prison cell to Orange County for the trial.
Balcom's public defender admitted during his opening statements in March 2012 that his client raped and stabbed Gibbons to death. "This is a horrible case," Thomas J. Lo told jurors in Santa Ana. "You don't have to make it worse than it already is. Hold him accountable for what he did, and only what he did."
Another public defender would contend being raised by a mentally ill mother caused Balcom's murderous behavior and that he should be spared death as a result. But veteran Orange County homicide prosecutor Matt Murphy pointed to the grisly nature of the crime and the monster blow it dealt Gibbons' family as justification for the death penalty.
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The jury convicted Balcom of special circumstances murder but deadlocked 10-2 when it came to the death penalty.
That led to a re-do of the penalty phase of the trial and today's unanimous verdict recommending the ultimate punishment by the state.