By Neal Putnam
Life sentence for porn star who killed another for money
The would-be murder victim met his future killer at a Pacific Beach hotel after he answered a Craigslist ad for an escort in 2013.
Jake “J.C.” Merendino, 52, had no idea that David Enrique Meza, then 23, would kill him two years later so that he could inherit Merendino’s estate. Meza produced a one-sentence, handwritten will 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 in a packed courtroom. He was previously convicted May 2, by a jury of eight women and four men, of the murder of an American citizen in Mexico and conspiracy to obstruct justice in San Diego.
Judge Miller imposed a 20-year concurrent sentence for the conspiracy charge. Meza declined to say anything as recommended by his lawyers who told the judge he would be appealing the convictions.
Meza has appeared in gay porn films under the names of Mario Romo and Francisco. In an interview with Next Door Studios, Meza said he was straight but was doing gay films for the money.
Meza’s attorney, Reuben Cahn, noted the relationship began as “a commercial transaction,” when Merendino paid $100 to Meza’s escort services ad. Merendino would later shower Meza with gifts, such as an $11,665 motorcycle, a $45,000 sports car, cash and other gifts totaling $100,000, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Ciaffa, who said Meza considered Merendino his “sugar daddy.”
“He wanted to show Mr. Meza off as a possession, as arm candy,” Cahn said.
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. His body was dumped in a ravine outside Rosarito, Mexico, around 3 a.m.
Unknown to Merendino, Meza was living 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 on 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, in Imperial Beach.
Cahn had urged the judge to impose a 25-year sentence instead of a life term. He then 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.”
“I really hate this guy. I hate him so much,” wrote Meza in email to his girlfriend, which was read to the jury.
Merendino’s death occurred two days after his $273,000 ocean view condominium closed escrow in Rosario, Mexico. Meza called Merendino around 2 a.m., saying he was stranded on a road outside Rosarito, and then attacked him with a knife after Merendino got out of his car.
“The defendant is a liar, an accomplished con man,” Ciaffa said. “He took advantage of Jake to rip him off. He gutted him like an animal and threw him off a cliff.
“He repeatedly lied to Jake Merendino [saying] that he loved him,” Ciaffa continued. “He was gay for pay. He sent Jake naked pictures to keep Jake interested.”
Jennifer Sojka, Merendino’s cousin, said she went to Rosarito to claim his body. “That picture has been engraved in my mind forever,” she said. “Jay loved David Meza. David is a predator.”
“He played our cousin’s affection like a fiddle,” said Mark Faggard, another cousin and a lawyer in Texas.
Miller said the murder was “unusually heinous, unusually cruel,” and that Meza was manipulative and used “deception over a significant period of time,” before concluding that a life term was warranted.
One puzzling question is why did Meza willingly have sex with men while steadfastly claiming he was straight? His lawyer said it was related to his upbringing in which an older male relative molested him.
“Scarred by this abuse, David believed himself of no value except as a sexual object for other’s pleasure,” Cahn wrote.
The judge noted that Meza was a high school graduate and attended some college. He said Meza previously worked at a grocery store and did some cement work in construction before going into the gay porn industry.
“His double life was collapsing under its own weight,” Miller said.
Miller ordered Meza to pay five of Merendino’s cousins and a friend restitution in the amount of $9,916.08. 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 afterward the sentencing.
Meza received no jail credits because a life term was ordered, and there is currently no option for Meza to ever be paroled on a federal life sentence unless the law changes. Meza and his wife have a young daughter who is currently being cared for by Meza’s father.
The three-week trial had many witnesses, including one man who said he could not identify Meza because he was wearing clothing. Meza had a misdemeanor trial in June 2014, in which he was found guilty of prostitution with an undercover male police officer. He received probation in San Diego Superior Court.
Meza had also pleaded guilty in March 2014, of battery upon Langston, when he got drunk, dragged her off the bed and angrily tipped a shelf on top of her in Chula Vista. He was ordered to attend a 52-week Domestic Violence Recovery Program on terms of three years of probation.
—Neal Putnam is a local freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.