CARLSBAD — A San Diego jury on Monday convicted a 41-year-old medical supplies salesman of the brutal murder of his ex-girlfriend in her Carlsbad home last summer.
Jonathan Scott French of La Costa never denied killing Jennifer Stark, his on-again, off-again girlfriend of three years; however, he was adamant that the murder occurred in the heat of one jealous moment and was in no way premeditated.
“I didn’t think,” French said repeatedly throughout his testimony, adding that he and Stark were having a nice evening of drinks and dinner until they got into an argument about a text message from another man on her cell phone.
Unfortunately for French, the jury didn’t believe his defense that the July 31, 2009, killing was spontaneous and deserving of the lesser-included charge of voluntary manslaughter. After more than two full days of deliberations, the panel found French guilty of first-degree murder with a knife, which carries a sentence of 26 years to life in prison sentence.
“We were certainly pleased with the verdict, and I think they got it right,” Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek said in a phone interview.
Under cross examination by Dusek, French admitted to beating and choking the 43-year-old mother unconscious, and then going into the kitchen to grab a knife, which he said he used to slit her throat as she laid knocked out on the floor.
Dusek dismissed French’s admission that he killed Stark in a blind rage pointing to evidence that showed the defendant went to three different kitchen drawers to find a knife before returning to make at least 13 superficial slices and one fatal cut to Stark’s throat.
“That to me and fortunately to the jury indicated he was thinking about killing her and had a plan to carry it out,” Dusek said.
Stark, a popular North County court reporter, had worked at the San Diego Superior Courthouse in Vista for nine years. Her teenage son found her in a pool of blood with her neck slashed as he entered the house around 11:20 p.m. July 31, 2009.
French’s attorney, Ken Kaminski, pointed to the uncertainty of the evening, in particular French’s assumption that Stark’s son was on his way home and that his own daughter was at home waiting for him as evidence that his client just snapped and killed Stark in a jealous rage.
“If you were going to plan a murder, you might be able to do it a little less sloppily in terms of having other possible variables that you can’t control,” Kaminski said in a phone interview following the verdict.
Kaminski said he believes the fact that his client went into the kitchen to get a knife may have been the deciding factor for jurors on whether or not the murder was premeditated. “Distance equals time and time equals, perhaps, some thought,” the attorney said.
French was discharged from the Navy because of a 1992 domestic violence incident in Florida, in which he beat and strangled a former girlfriend, according to court documents.
Immediately following the murder, French testified he tried to commit suicide but couldn’t so he turned himself into police.
Because of Stark’s relationship with the San Diego County court system, retired Contra Costa Judge Peter Spinetta is handling French’s case at the superior courthouse in downtown San Diego.
A sentencing date is scheduled for July 12.