Jake (J.C.) Merendino, 52, had no idea that David Enrique Meza, then 23, would kill him so he could inherit Merendino's estate in 2015. Meza had produced a one-sentence handwritten will supposedly written by Merendino that Meza mailed to a probate court in Texas in an unsuccessful effort to win his boyfriend's wealthy estate.
Meza, now 27, was sentenced Dec. 11 to life in federal prison by U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Miller in San Diego during a three-hour hearing. Meza declined to say anything, as his attorneys said he would appeal the jury's guilty verdicts on May 2 of murdering an American citizen in Mexico and conspiracy to obstruct justice by covering it up in San Diego.
Meza's attorney, Reuben Cahn, noted the relationship began "as a commercial transaction" when Merendino paid $100 to Meza's escort services ad at the undisclosed Pacific Beach hotel. Merendino would shower Meza with gifts, such as an $11,000 motorcycle, a $45,000 sports car, cash and other gifts totaling $100,000, said prosecutor Robert Ciaffa.
The victim's cousins and a friend told the judge about the horrific murder in which Merendino's throat was slashed twice and he was stabbed 24 times on May 2, 2015. Merendino's body was dumped in a ravine outside Rosarito, Mexico around 3 a.m.
Unknown to Merendino, Meza led a double life, and had a girlfriend, Taylor Marie Langston, now 22, who later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice when she lied to federal agents and gave an alibi for Meza during the time of the murder. Langston was sentenced June 16 to 21 months in federal prison, and she has been given a release date of Dec. 26, 2018.
Meza and Langston got married before they were arrested on Dec. 23, 2015.
Meza's attorney, Reuben Cahn, urged Miller to impose a 25-year sentence instead of a life term.
"He wanted to show Mr. Meza off as a possession, as arm candy," said Cahn.
Cahn recited a text message Meza sent to Langston during this time which said: "Be patient. The reward will be great. One day we'll have more than we need."
"The defendant is a liar, an accomplished con man," said Ciaffa. "He took advantage of Jake to rip him off."
"He repeatedly lied to Jake Merendino that he loved him," said Ciaffa. "He was gay for pay."
Miller said the murder "was unusually heinous, unusually cruel." Miller said Meza used "deception over a significant period of time" and was manipulative.
"A life term is warranted in this case," said the judge.
Miller ordered Meza to pay restitution of $9,916.08 to five of Merendino's cousins and to a friend. The cousins had to pay funeral costs and transportation of the body from Mexico.
"The United States will use every tool at its disposal to investigate and prosecute offenders who prey on U.S. citizens abroad," said U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman in a press release.
Meza received no credits because a life term was ordered. There is currently no option for Meza to ever be paroled on a life sentence unless the law changes. Meza and his wife have a young daughter who is currently being cared for by Meza's father.