A San Diego woman was sentenced Friday to a year and nine months in prison for lying to the FBI about her and her husband's whereabouts the day his secret gay lover was murdered on the side of a Baja California highway.
Prosecutors said Taylor Marie Langston, 21, was "within a hair's breadth" of being charged as a co-conspirator in the murder of Jake Merendino, but in the end the evidence just wasn't there. She pleaded guilty to an obstruction of justice charge, while her husband, David Enrique Meza, went to trial and was convicted last month of murder.
Investigators say evidence points to Langston's presence in Mexico in the early morning of May 2, 2015, when Merendino was killed. But while Meza's phone tracked his movement within the country, putting him at the scene of the crime, Langston's exact locations that day remain a mystery.
The one place the couple were not: at their friend Joe's house in Tijuana. The alibi the couple had cooked up, that they were merely in Mexico visiting a friend, was a lie that cost the FBI 19 days in its investigation into the slaying, prosecutors said.
Langston's involvement in or knowledge of the killing — described Friday by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller as "a brutal murder of extreme barbarity" — is unknown.
Langston's defense attorney, Donald Levine, said the young woman was the victim of manipulation and lies just as Merendino was, and that her relationship with Meza was fraught with emotional and physical abuse.
Meza met Langston when she was 16 years old and the two began dating. Meza, who was five years older, was leading the double life of a porn actor and prostitute, picking up gay men on escort websites. That's where in 2013 he met Merendino, a wealthy Texas man who fell in love with the gigolo and began showering him with gifts. The relationship between the men grew seemingly serious — although Merendino knew nothing of Meza's then-girlfriend in San Diego.
Langston knew Meza was spending a lot of time with Merendino, but she was told that his name was "George" and that he was a client of Meza's who was dying of cancer. She was told the fancy gifts and cash were the proceeds from Meza's accounting work — another fabrication.
After a couple of years, Merendino bought a condominium in a new complex near Rosarito Beach in Mexico, with the understanding Meza would be moving in with him. Langston by that time was pregnant.
That's when Meza, prosecutors said, put his plan into action — which would leave him the sole beneficiary of Merendino's condo and $3-million estate.
After leaving Merendino at a hotel in Rosarito, the day after escrow closed on the condo, Meza lured him to a highway around 2 a.m. Merendino's body was found about an hour later, his throat slashed and 24 stab wounds to his torso. His body was dragged and dumped over a small cliff.
Meza and Langston were captured on border cameras entering the U.S. later that morning in separate vehicles, with Meza wearing different clothing than before.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert Ciaffa pointed to Langston's benefit to the death, and noted several text messages between her and Meza that indicated she was prepared for Merendino to die soon and a financial windfall to come their way.
Langston's attorney said she lied about their whereabouts that day because she was scared of Meza and under his control.
Prosecutors contended there was little evidence of prolonged domestic violence. There was one incident in 2014 when Chula Vista police were called to the couple's home, and Meza later was convicted of battery.