LOS ANGELES (AP) - A young San Diego couple pleaded not guilty Thursday in connection with the stabbing death of a wealthy Texas retiree who one suspect claimed had left a handwritten will naming him sole heir to his estate.
David Enrique Meza, 25, and Taylor Marie Langston, 20, entered the pleas a day after they were arrested in their Imperial Beach apartment.
Meza is charged with domestic violence resulting in the murder of 52-year-old Jake Clyde Merendino, who was stabbed May 2 in Baja California, where he had just closed escrow on a $300,000 condo.
Merendino’s body was found in a ravine next to a highway the same day he was killed. About two weeks later, Meza produced a will that had been handwritten on the stationary of a Chula Vista hotel where he had been staying with Merendino days before his death, FBI Special Agent Eric Van Houten said in court records.
The document named Meza as the sole beneficiary of Merendino’s estate and was dated Dec. 21, 2014, Van Houten said.
Prosecutors say Meza and Merendino were romantically involved and had met online in 2013. Meza also was in a long-term relationship with Langston, who was pregnant with his child when Merendino was killed, prosecutors say.
Both Meza and Langston are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice. She’s also charged with obstruction and lying to a federal officer.
Meza could face up to life in prison if convicted of the murder-related charge, while Langston could face up to 45 years in prison if convicted of the charges against her.
A public defender who had just been assigned to Langston’s case declined to comment Thursday, saying he hadn’t yet met his client or read through the paperwork. An attorney for Meza could not be found.
Court records show that Meza and Merendino rented a car in San Diego County on April 29, and drove to Mexico to close the deal on the condo in an upscale, coastal development between Rosarito and Ensenada, about 40 miles south of San Diego.
The pair crossed back into the U.S. and stayed at a hotel in Chula Vista before returning to Baja on May 1, with Merendino driving a Range Rover and Meza following on a motorcycle.
The pair checked into a hotel because the condo wasn’t ready.
On the night of May 1, Meza was seen on a border camera entering the U.S. around 11 p.m., court records say.
Two hours after that, Merendino told hotel security he was leaving to help a friend stranded on the road. Merendino was found dead just after 3:30 a.m., and Meza was recorded crossing back into the U.S. less than a half-hour later, prosecutors say.
Meanwhile Langston crossed into the U.S. in a black SUV with no license plates about an hour after Merendino’s body was found, prosecutors say.
When questioned by FBI agents, Meza denied killing Merendino but told agents he had called Merendino in the early morning hours of May 2 and later met Merendino at the bend in the road where his body was found, court records say. Meza told agents he had intended to rob Merendino and had enlisted Langston to help him, but he got cold feet and left.
Langston told investigators that she was in Mexico to visit a friend of Meza, spent four hours at the friend’s house and returned home afterward.
Associated Press writers John Antczak and Sue Manning in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP. Her work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/amanda-lee-myers.
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