SAN DIEGO (CN) — In a three-hour-long hearing Monday morning, a federal judge proclaimed that “this was no run-of-the-mill murder” before sentencing a male escort to life in prison for stabbing his wealthy boyfriend to death in Mexico.
A pre-sentence report by David Meza’s public defender Reuben Cahn outlining how Meza had been physically and sexually abused and neglected by family members as a child did not sway U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller’s decision to sentence Meza to life in prison for one count of foreign domestic violence resulting in death. He also slapped him with 20 years for one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice for lying to investigators. The sentences will run concurrently.
Cahn had asked for 27-year-old Meza to be sentenced to 25 years in prison.
But Miller found that Meza “had a choice” and could have left the sex work profession and ended his relationship with wealthy Texas transplant Jake Merendino rather than stabbing him 24 times and nearly decapitating him before dumping his body along the side of a Mexican highway between Rosarito and Tijuana on May 2, 2015.
“Mr. Meza chose to end this relationship not by walking away but by murdering Mr. Merendino,” Judge Miller said.
“This was no run-of-the-mill murder case, it had its own mosaic of deadly sins … this was an exercise in extreme brutality, annihilation of another human being,” he added.
At Monday’s sentencing, Cahn pointed out members of Meza’s family who attended the hearing to support him. He suggested Merendino always had the “upper hand” in the relationship since he “held the purse strings” and wanted to show Meza off as “arm candy” to his friends.
“This was not a normal love affair, as if they met on Match.com or in a bar,” Cahn said. “It began as a commercial transaction and continued as a commercial transaction throughout its entirety.”
In 2013, Merendino met Meza by responding to Meza’s Craigslist ad offering male escort services.
Cahn disputed that Meza planned Merendino’s murder, suggesting it was a “spontaneous response to a threat by Merendino” to expose Meza as a male escort and gay porn actor.
Cahn also cast doubt on Meza’s relationship with his girlfriend Taylor Langston, which he engaged in at the same time he was dating Merendino.
Domestic abuse claims by Meza’s then-girlfriend Langston were false, Cahn said, especially in light of “hundreds and hundreds” of text messages between the two – including after Meza was convicted of domestic abuse and sentenced to probation – “which showed a close and loving relationship.”
Meza was given multiple opportunities to address the court during the sentencing hearing, but chose not to speak.
U.S. Attorney Robert Ciaffa rebuffed any attempts to dilute Meza’s crime with his experience of abuse as a child, saying, “It’s almost as if we’ve forgotten why we’re here. Jake Merendino was murdered and this is the man who did it.”
“The fact that he was a sex worker has nothing to do with the fact he killed Merendino,” Ciaffa argued. “Abused children do not necessarily become murderers, prostitutes do not necessarily become murderers.”
Ciaffa said Meza “groomed” Merendino over the course of their two-year relationship before “slaughtering” him. While Merendino showered Meza with over $100,000 in vehicles, gifts and cash, Meza’s “big goal was to get the condo” and he needed to “keep Merendino on the hook” until the condo closed escrow, Ciaffa said.
Merendino was killed the day after he closed escrow on the condo.
“He gutted him like an animal and threw him off a cliff,” Ciaffa said.
“Even after internalizing the horror he had caused, he was actively seeking his next sugar daddy three weeks after he killed the last one,” he added.
Ciaffa pointed to greed as the main motivator in Merendino’s murder, as he was named as a primary beneficiary of the wealthy man’s estate.
Four of Merendino’s family members and friends read victim impact statements about how the murder had upended their lives. Merendino’s friend Barbara Armani of Houston called Meza “a ruthless organism not worthy of being called a human.”
Merendino’s cousin Alfred Faggard, an attorney from east Texas, said Merendino’s murder affected many people in their community, and that while families might prepare for loved ones to die from old age or Alzheimer’s disease, “no family prepares for their cousin getting stabbed 24 times and their throat slit, all for the money.”
“He played my cousin’s affection like a fiddle,” Faggard said of Meza.