When she was alive, the law failed her.
And now that she’s gone, strangled and bludgeoned to death in her own bathroom in 2016, her family believes the law continues to fail Marylou Sarkissian.
“I have no faith in the justice system,” said Debbie Zdrazil, Sarkissian’s frustrated sister. “It is a tragedy. I don’t understand. All they can do now is apologize.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 6, Superior Court Judge Sheila Hanson is expected to kick the case down the road again. The trial of Jason Becher, accused of killing Sarkissian, his ex-girlfriend, won’t likely begin until the spring of 2021, or maybe next summer.
Or maybe later.
Sarkissian’s twins, Isabel and Ian, were in middle school when their mother was killed. They could be in college when the trial begins. Becher, who pleaded not guilty, has been in custody since December 2016 awaiting his day in court.
Tuesday’s hearing will be the 22nd in nearly four years. In most of them, either the prosecutor or the public defender has asked for and been granted delays. There were 10 hearings in 2017 and seven hearings in 2018. There were no hearings in 2019, in which the Orange County District Attorney’s Office went through the post-election transition of leaders – from Tony Rackaukas to Todd Spitzer.
The Deputy D.A. assigned to the case has changed from Keith Burke to Jennifer Walker to Janine Madera. The changes disturb the family of the victim.
“I’m not even confident,” Zdrazil said. “Is it going to be Janine?”
The coronavirus has limited the number of trials held in Orange County since March. The courts have now reopened and are operating, but at a much slower pace.
The virus, however, can’t take all the blame for the problems with the Sarkissian case.
“I blame the D.A.’s office,” Zdrazil said.
An email and text to Spitzer’s office asking for comment was not returned. A call to Huntington Beach police public information officer Angela Bennett was also not returned.
‘The law failed’
Since 2015, Sarkissian and Zdrazil have been known in law enforcement circles as “The Sisters” because of their number of contacts with police and the courts. The Sisters warned that their lives, especially Sarkissian’s, were in danger. They each filed police reports, provided evidence (recorded phone threats and other bizarre digital material) and were granted restraining orders designed to keep them safe.
Then, Sarkissian was beaten and strangled on Aug. 28, 2016 (18 days after her restraining order had gone into effect). No arrest was made. She didn’t die from that incident, and there were no consequences for her attacker. The beating/strangling case seemed to get caught in some inexplicable limbo in which the police referred it to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and waited for instructions. No charges were filed.
Zdrazil said she was told the D.A.’s office was getting new computers in the late summer and fall of 2016 and that could have contributed to the inaction.
Zdrazil showed the Southern California News Group emails she exchanged with Huntington Beach Police detective Jayson Lewis in 2016.
On Sept. 28, 2016, she wrote to the HBPD asking why Becher wasn’t arrested when he allegedly violated the restraining order.
Lewis wrote: “The case involving Becher is still pending review by the DA so he will most likely not be arrested today.”
Zdrazil said she talked to Deputy DA Jennifer Walker, who told her HB police didn’t mark the case as a “high priority,” which also contributed to the inaction.
“They blamed each other,” Zdrazil said.
At one point, Becher wrote a text to Zdrazil explaining that he had called the Huntington Beach Police Department to ask if they were looking for him. He said he was told they were not.
So he texted her he would see her around the holidays. She said she thought he meant it as a threat.
While the case was “pending review” by the Rackaukas’ District Attorney’s Office, the worst-case-scenario happened.
On Dec. 2, 2016, just after midnight, someone wearing all black broke into Sarkissian’s home, where she lived with her three children, and killed her in her bathroom. Her body wasn’t discovered until the next day, when police got a tip, Zdrazil said.
Sarkissian’s teenage son, who didn’t know a crime had been committed, was leading the police on a check of the house when the boy discovered his mother’s body.
Police found a videotape, from Sarkissian’s newly installed home security system, in which, after the crime, the killer looked into the camera and mocked her for thinking the system would stop him. “How’d that work out for you?” he reportedly said.
Becher was arrested the following day in Grants Pass, Oregon, where his sister lived.
For Sarkissian’s family, that’s when the waiting started.
Zdrazil plans to speak at Tuesday’s hearing, asking the judge to start the trial.
“Justice for my sister, her three teenage children, my aging father, and the rest of my family is NOT served the longer we are forced to wait for the case to go to trial,” Zdrazil will say in a prepared statement. “… I helped my sister reach out to law enforcement and use all legal measures available to protect her from the defendant, and the law failed to save her life. And the criminal justice system is failing us again by delaying the case’s prosecution.”
‘I hated him’
Her parents met at a bullfight.
Odilio Correia, who lived in America, had come back to his native island of Terceira (in the Azores off Portugal) to find a wife. He and Aldevina were married two months after they met.
Odilio brought his new wife back to the United States. They lived in Corona, Upland, Pomona and finally settled in Ontario. Odiolio worked on dairy farms and in a Vons warehouse. Aldevina taught herself to read and drive. They were a very religious family, saying the rosary every night.
They had two daughters, Marylou in 1966 and Debbie in 1971.
Marylou was a straight-A student, attended Pomona College and had a long career in pharmaceutical sales.
“She was an extrovert,” Zdrazil said. “She would answer for me. She was authentic, genuine.”
She married George Sarkissian in 1993. They moved around a lot, renovating each house and moving on. Marylou and George had three children, Robert, Ian and Isabel. Their marriage fell apart after he took a job in Colorado.
By 2011, Sarkissian was a single mom.
She moved to Huntington Beach. That’s where she met Jason Becher.
He was nine years younger than her. From Anaheim, he had attended Magnolia High School.
“I hated him,” Zdrazil said. “I know my sister could do better. He had crazy eyes.”
His eyes weren’t all that alarmed Zdrazil.
He had a shady history.
In 1993, Jason Becher began a long legal battle with an ex-girlfriend over the paternity of a child. When it was determined he was the father, he was ordered to pay child support.
He told Sarkissian the court’s order forced him out of a legitimate career (because he didn’t want his wages garnished). So he freely admitted he was selling marijuana as his main source of income.
“I still can’t wrap my head around why she would be with him,” Zdrazil said.
In 1997, he had pleaded guilty after he was arrested for selling marijuana. Over the next 10 years, Becher pleaded guilty to the following charges: drunk in public, criminal threats, assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence (twice), grand theft auto and drunk driving. He served several jail sentences, although court records don’t show precisely how much time he served.
When he met Sarkissian in 2011, he told her he was reformed.
“He’s charismatic,” Zdrazil said. “He could turn on the charm.”
In 2013, Sarkissian tried to break up with him. But, over the next three years, he kept coming back, and she kept letting him come back, Zdrazil said.
In 2014, Zdrazil said Becher targeted her for “corrupting” her sister. Zdrazil said 2014 is when the digital assault began.
She showed the Southern California News Group hundreds of text messages and transcripts from voicemails in which the sender used vile language and made threats that he was going to kill Marylou, Debbie and their children.
“I’m gonna take away everything you love … Watch … Over the next few months, I’m gonna slowly take away everything you love,” a voice says in a recorded call. “… I’m gonna ruin your (expletive) life.”
It didn’t stop there.
Zdrazil said Becher began calling people who knew the sisters and leaving vile messages. Calls went to family, friends, co-workers.
He allegedly took out advertisements on Craigslist leaving both sisters’ phone numbers and saying they were prostitutes looking for action. The ads asked men to send them nude pictures. They got hundreds of calls and texts.
The Sisters eventually turned over the digital onslaught to the police.
‘I’ll calm him down’
The danger increased in June 2016.
That’s when The Sisters went to Palm Desert to celebrate Marylou’s 50th birthday.
“We had the greatest time,” Zdrazil said.
Zdrazil said Becher accused Sarkissian of being with another man on that trip.
“We were being harassed daily by him,” Zdrazil said. She showed up at Sarkissian’s house, and Becher was there.
“He got in my face, asking me what happened (in Palm Desert),” Zdrazil said. “My sister said, ‘I’ll calm him down.’ She told me to leave. She always had to talk down his crazy.”
Zdrazil said she slept that whole summer with a knife under her pillow.
“I wanted him to come after me,” she said. “I thought about scenarios.”
On the last night of her life, Sarkissian went to dinner with Zdrazil at the Black Bull Chop House in Huntington Beach.
They didn’t talk about Becher.
“We had a great dinner,” Zdrazil said. “We laughed about our kids.”
And Sarkissian pulled out her phone, which was set up to a new security system in her house. They watched images of her dog, Fluffy, running around the house.
Later that night, Sarkissian opened the door so Fluffy could go outside. That’s when the killer came into the house.
Becher is charged with homicide and lying in wait, which means, if convicted, he would face life without the possibility of parole.
Early in the process, the District Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue the death penalty.
Zdrazil agreed with that decision.
She thought the specter of the death penalty would delay the case.
Source: Orange County Register