SAN DIEGO (CN) – A San Diego jury on Tuesday found a male escort guilty of murdering his boyfriend who had just closed escrow on a luxury beachfront condo in Mexico – two years to the day after the man’s murder.
David Enrique Meza, 25, was found guilty in the foreign murder of U.S. national Jake Clyde Merendino who was stabbed to death on the side of a Mexican highway between the beach town of Rosarito and Tijuana, with his 300-plus pound body dumped over the side of an embankment.
The verdict came following seven days of deliberations by the 12-person jury.
Meza was also found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice. He faces up to life in prison.
Merendino met Meza in 2013 through an online male escort service, and while their relationship initially began as a business transaction, it turned into an on-and-off romance for two years.
Prosecutors said Meza was “gay for pay” and that he was engaged to San Diego woman Taylor Langston while dating Merendino at the same time. Meza was living in “two separate worlds,” prosecutors said, so he could maintain his lavish lifestyle funded by Merendino.
The “two worlds” were on a collision course, prosecutors said, when Meza and Merendino got more serious and the wealthy Texan sold his apartment in Houston to move to Rosarito, Mexico, to be closer to Meza.
But Langston and Meza were expecting their first child together when Merendino moved west and closed escrow on the $273,000 condo, which Meza was set to inherit should anything happen to Merendino.
Merendino was killed the day after getting the keys to his new home.
“David Meza took the life of a man who cared for him, lavished him with expensive gifts and who wanted to create a life with him,” acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson said in a statement.
“On this day, the second anniversary of Jake Merendino’s death, we salute the jury for delivering justice to a greedy killer who will now have to answer for his cruelty.”
Prosecutors said Meza lured Merendino to a dark highway in Mexico on May 2, 2015, by telling him the motorcycle he’d bought Meza had broken down. Meza then stabbed Merendino over 20 times in the chest and back before slashing his throat, according to prosecutors.
GPS satellites pinged Meza’s cellphone at the location where the murder happened. Text messages and voicemails exchanged between Meza and Langston in the weeks following Merendino’s death – in which Meza expressed remorse – were also shown during the trial, including one which stated: “I don’t know how to cope. I don’t know how to get past this and move on.”
Meza also looked up “Most Wanted” lists in the United States and Mexico and consulted local news stations about what was being reported on Merendino’s death, according to Google searches shown during the trial.
Days after the murder, Meza produced a handwritten will by Merendino naming him as the sole heir to the Texan’s multimillion-dollar estate.
Jury foreperson Shannon Cadagan told Courthouse News following the verdict there wasn’t one piece of evidence the entire 12-person jury agreed proved Meza was the killer. She said the lack of physical evidence linking him to Merendino’s death “pushed us to fully deliberate and consider the evidence that does exist.”
Juror Douglas Seter said re-watching deposition videos of Meza when he was questioned a month after Merendino’s murder showed inconsistencies in some of Meza’s answers about the night his boyfriend was killed. He said the jury was able to “separate emotions and morals” from the evidence in taking their time to review the complex case.
There was no audible reaction in U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller’s packed courtroom Tuesday when the verdict was read.
The jury had reached a decision on the murder charge by Monday, but was still undecided as to the conspiracy charge and asked the judge for further instructions.
Miller declined to read the partial verdict after asking jurors if additional instruction would help reach a verdict. The judge gave the jury more time to continue deliberating on the conspiracy charge in hopes of avoiding a deadlock.
Meza’s public defenders Reuben Cahn and Richard Deke Falls did not comment following the verdict.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alexandra Foster and Robert Ciaffa prosecuted the case.
Meza is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 7. Langston pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice earlier this year and will be sentenced in June.