SAN DIEGO (CN) — A federal jury Monday heard closing arguments in a murder trial involving sex, money, and the double life of a 20-something male escort accused of killing his sugar daddy.
David Enrique Meza’s attorneys and the prosecutors trying to send him to jail for the rest of his life disagreed over whether Meza crossed the Mexican border with the intent to kill his wealthy Texas boyfriend Jake Clyde Merendino in May 2015. But they agreed on one thing: that Meza lied to the people most important to him and to investigators trying to get to the bottom of Merendino’s death.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Ciaffa told jurors Meza lived in “two separate worlds.” His first world, Ciaffa said, was with his girlfriend Taylor Langston, who was “going to make him a father.” The second world was with his sugar daddy Merendino, who was “going to make him rich.”
The two worlds were on a “collision course” when Merendino bought a luxury beachfront condo in the Mexican resort town of Rosarito, an hour’s drive south of Meza’s home in San Diego. Merendino wanted Meza to move in with him, but did not know Meza had another relationship with Langston and that she was pregnant, Ciaffa said.
Langston pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to obstruct justice in Merendino’s murder and is to be sentenced in June.
The prosecutor said Meza met Merendino in the summer of 2013 and that a YouTube video of the then-22-year-old bodybuilder shows Meza was “gay for pay:” He said in the video that he is heterosexual but that he has sex with men “for fun and easy money.”
Over the course of their on-and-off two-year relationship, Merendino sank more than $101,000 into buying things for Meza, including a $45,000 sports car, two other vehicles, clothes, travel, thousands in cash, dental work and designer eyeglasses.
“The defendant knew he had hooked a live one and over the next two years he used lies and deceit to reel him in,” Ciaffa said, telling Merendino he loved him, all the while planning to marry and start a family with Langston.
Meza was named as Merendino’s beneficiary and was to inherit his $273,000 Rosarito condo, Ciaffa said, and he “kept up the charade” until the day Merendino closed escrow on the property. Then Meza stabbed him more than 20 times, sliced his neck twice and dumped his body on the side of the road between Rosarito and Tijuana on May 2, 2015, according to prosecutors.
Days later, Meza mailed a handwritten will by Merendino, naming him as the sole beneficiary to Merendino’s estate, to the probate court in Galveston, Texas that was handling his assets. Meza also drained Merendino’s bank account using a debit card his now-deceased boyfriend had given him, overdrafting the account by $12.
The prosecutor played clips from Meza’s interrogation, in which he admitted sending Merendino naked pictures of himself so Merendino he would keep sending him money.
Meza lied to his friends and family, telling them he was an accountant with wealthy clients when asked how he afforded to have multiple vehicles and expensive clothes, Ciaffa said.
Ciaffa said text messages between Meza and Langston showed Meza had been planning for months to kill Merendino once he had closed on the condo.
“Very soon we will have more than we could ask for and it’s just going to be us. … It will all be over soon and it will all be worth it,” one message said.
But messages between Meza and Merendino the day the Texan was killed were deleted from Meza’s cellphone, Ciaffa said, though GPS pings of Meza’s phone placed him in the area where Merendino’s body was found.
Ciaffa called the murder “personal and vicious” and said Meza would not have taken Langston to collect his belongings from the hotel where he was staying with Merendino the day after Merendino was murdered if he thought the man was still alive.
Meza checked San Diego and Tijuana news websites and “Most Wanted” lists to see if he was suspected of Merendino’s murder, according to Google searches shown during the trial.
Meza texted Langston in the weeks after Merendino’s murder with messages that expressed remorse: “It’s consuming me little by little, it’s sucking the life out of me … I don’t know how to cope. I don’t know how to get past this and move on,” one stated.
Richard Deke Falls, Meza’s attorney, told the jury the case is built from “circumstantial evidence,” with no direct or physical evidence linking his client to Merendino’s murder.
He posed a hypothetical conversation that Meza could have had with Langston over his plan to kill his boyfriend, saying: “No one would plan out a murder that way.
“I guarantee you, hacking his body to death and throwing him on the side of the ravine is not the way to do it,” Falls said, suggesting that more than one person participated in the murder based on the number of stab wounds and two different shoe prints found at the crime scene.
Falls disputed the accuracy of the GPS tracker that showed Meza was at the murder scene, saying he was never there.
He said clothes Meza was said to be wearing when the murder happened were seized by investigators, who did not find any of Merendino’s blood on them.
Meza had “as much of a reason not to kill Jake Merendino as they say he did,” Falls said, as Meza could “just keep milking him for more money or go and find another sugar daddy.”
“That seems like an easier way than killing someone,” Falls said.
As for the text messages to Langston where he expresses remorse, Falls said they were not about murdering Merendino but about Meza’s regret in “calling him out here” when he was planning to break up with Merendino.
The case is in the hands of the jury.