On the afternoon of her murder, Belen Perez was baking cookies inside her Provo home and texting a friend to say she would deliver the treats around 3 p.m.
The 60-year-old woman ran to Walmart around 1:06 p.m., and when she came home, she parked her car in an odd position in her driveway, as if she planned on returning to the vehicle. But she never had the chance to deliver the homemade sweets.
Investigators believe Perez walked into her home that afternoon on May 21, 2014, and surprised Jerad Gourdin in the middle of trying to rob her residence at 1675 W. 50 North.
Charges state he strangled Perez with a stereo cord and poured bleach and various chemicals on her before leaving her body in the living room near the front door. Her son, Carlos Barcelata, arrived home around 3:55 p.m. and found her.
“Ever since I can remember, ever since I was a little kid, she was a religious woman, a very hardworking woman,” he said. “She definitely deserved a better ending to her life.”
Gourdin, 35, was sentenced on Wednesday to 25 years to life in prison without parole for homicide for pecuniary gain, a first-degree felony, more than five years after Perez’s death.
During the sentencing in 4th District Court, he told Judge Thomas Low that his attorneys did not do what he asked and he did not receive a fair trial. When the judge said the sentencing was still going to proceed, Gourdin stood up and walked out of the courtroom back to the courthouse holding cells.
He was not present for the rest of the sentencing.
“Life without parole reflects the violent nature of the defendant,” Low said. “He has made himself a dangerous man.”
The judge praised Perez for “lifting herself up by her bootstraps” and creating a peaceful life in Provo after she fled Mexico with her son and moved away from a dangerous area in Los Angeles.
“The circumstances she was born into and who she became is extraordinary and very inspiring,” Low said. “She did absolutely nothing to place herself in harm’s way, unless baking cookies at home places oneself in harm’s way.”
In contrast, defense attorney Richard Gale argued Gourdin had been raised by an angry and abusive father who regularly beat him. Gourdin reportedly said at one point he enjoyed being at juvenile detention because he was safe from his father.
His first arrest happened at age 14 and he continued to spend years in jail or prison for various crimes, Gale explained. Every time Gourdin was released, prosecutors said only a few months would pass before he was arrested again for committing another crime.
“That’s going to be the situation for the rest of his life,” said prosecuting attorney Lance Bastian.
Gourdin has been released from prison almost a month and lived with one of Perez’s neighbors before the murder.
Investigators believe he canvassed the neighborhood that morning by knocking on doors and asking neighbors about doing odd jobs. He may have knocked on Perez’s door in the morning and returned in the afternoon to rob the home, although investigators still do not know all the details.
The home showed no signs of forced entry but her purse was found nearby on a couch with both $350 in cash and an iPod missing, according to court documents.
“It’s nothing but a tragedy that we are all here today,” Bastian said. “For a burglary or a couple of hundred dollars, he took this person’s life.”
Although investigators believed Gourdin was a suspect, the murder was considered a cold case for four years until an inmate at the Utah State Prison came forward with new information.
Gourdin had been convicted of stabbing another neighbor with a screwdriver the day after Perez’s death and sent to prison. The inmate said Gourdin had approached him about possible initiation into a gang.
He reportedly asked if a previous murder would fill the requirement to join the gang, and the information allowed law enforcement to formally charge Gourdin with the murder.
A jury participated in a 10-day trial and deliberated for almost six hours before convicting Gourdin.
“It’s very difficult for me to continue with life but I just think my mom would’ve liked me to keep going on,” Barcelata said. “I’m certainly going to be affected by this for the rest of my life, and he should be too.”