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Charges filed in 2014 strangling death of Provo woman

PROVO — In 2014, 60-year-old Belen Perez's adult son came home to find his mother strangled to death, with chemicals poured over her upper torso and face in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence.

Four years later, police and prosecutors say they believe they've found her killer.

"The Provo Police Department has not forgotten Belen Perez," said Provo Police Chief Rich Ferguson during a press conference about the investigation Monday in the Provo City Council Chambers.

Provo Police Chief Rich Ferguson talks about the Belen Perez homicide investigation and suspect Jerad Gourdin during a press conference in the Provo City Council chambers on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018. Behind him are deputy Utah County attorney Lance Bastian a
Provo Police Chief Rich Ferguson talks about the Belen Perez homicide investigation and suspect Jerad Gourdin during a press conference in the Provo City Council chambers on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018. Behind him are deputy Utah County attorney Lance Bastian and Utah County attorney Jeff Buhman.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

At the press conference, police and prosecutors announced charges have been filed against a former neighbor of Perez who allegedly killed her and poured bleach over her body to hide his DNA, according to court documents.

Jerad Dale Gourdin, 34, was charged Monday in 4th District Court with homicide committed for pecuniary gain, a first-degree felony.

According to the charges, Gourdin allegedly killed Perez, attempted to cover up the crime and — while in prison on an aggravated assault charge — later told another inmate about the killing in an attempt to join a gang.

"Ultimately, much of what we had in the beginning pointed to Mr. Gourdin, and at this point we're confident to say this is the individual who committed the offense," Deputy Utah County Attorney Lance Bastian said.

Belen Perez
Belen Perez
Family photo

On May 21, 2014, Perez was found dead in her home, 1675 W. 50 North, by her son. Police initially called her death a random crime, believing she may have returned home while a burglar was inside.

"That's been the most difficult part of this whole thing, that I really don't have that peace, knowing that the perpetrator is still somewhere out there," Carlos Barcelata said a year after his mother's death. He was not present Monday during the announcement in Provo.

The death was ruled a homicide by strangulation. Since then, Ferguson said Monday, police have "investigated carefully" and "have not stopped working to provide justice for her."

Bastian said police have remained in contact with the son throughout the investigation and that he has been "very supportive."

According to the charges, Perez was found with a power cord tied around her neck and "various chemicals," including drain cleaner and antifreeze, poured over her body. Her purse was sitting on a couch, and police said $350 and an iPod had been taken from it.

Earlier that day, Gourdin, who had been living two doors down from Perez after a recent release from Utah State Prison, "began moving about the neighborhood, knocking on doors and asking about doing odd jobs," charges state.

"Gourdin contacted the neighbor a few doors to the West of Perez's home three separate times, during each of which the neighbor declined his services, but commented to law enforcement that she felt like the entire time she was speaking with him at the door, he appeared to be looking past her into her home," charges state.

Perez went to a Walmart early in the afternoon and surveillance footage from the store would be the last time she was seen alive, according to the charges.

"Gourdin's activities also seemed to stop in the early afternoon, and he was not seen again by neighbors until later in the evening," charges state.

According to police, Gourdin's girlfriend said that when he returned home in the evening, he took two separate showers, one lasting 45 minutes. She also said that he showered while fully clothed and washed his clothes in the shower, charges said.

Gourdin's girlfriend told police that when investigators arrived at Perez's home that evening, Gourdin acted "strangely" and stood on a bed to watch police through a window, according to the charges.

When the girlfriend turned the TV on to a news report about Perez's death, "Gourdin told her to turn it off, and that they would not be watching anything about that," the charges state. Police said the girlfriend noticed that Gourdin appeared to be high on methamphetamine at the time.

When interviewed by police, Gourdin first said the only contact he'd had with Perez was "from the sidewalk while she was working in the yard" and that he'd left because she didn't speak English, according to the charges. In a second interview, he told police that he'd stepped into her home, charges state. And in a third interview, he said he shook hands with Perez and had stepped three or four feet into the home, according to police.

Perez's clothing and the cord used to strangle her were both tested for DNA, but police said the bleach mixture poured over her was "the perfect substance to destroy or degrade DNA."

The day after Perez's murder, Gourdin stabbed another person with a screwdriver, court documents state, and he is currently serving time in Utah State Prison for aggravated assault, a third-degree felony.

His sentence will in expire in May 2019, according to Bastian.

While in prison, according to court documents, Gourdin allegedly approached another inmate asking about "possible initiation into a gang."

"Knowing initiation required a killing, Gourdin asked if a previous incident could satisfy that requirement. The information provided to law enforcement by this inmate would not have been publicly or otherwise available, outside of contact with Gourdin," charges state.

According to Utah court documents, Gourdin has a string of felony convictions dating back several years including theft, a second-degree felony, failure to stop at command of police and possession of a controlled substance, both third-degree felonies, among others.

Correction: A previous version incorrectly said Belen Perez was killed on May 22, 2014. The correct date is May 21, 2014.