Carlsbad man who killed his girlfriend gets 26 years to life

City News Service
A Carlsbad man who said he “snapped” and killed his on-again, off-again girlfriend when he found flirtatious text messages on her cell phone was sentenced Monday to 26 years to life in prison.

Jonathan Scott French, 41, was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of 43-year-old Jennifer Stark, a court reporter at the Vista Courthouse.

“Mr. French will be in prison for the balance of his life,” San Diego Superior Court Judge Peter Spinetta said. “I certainly hope that’s the case.”

Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek said French planned the murder and carried it out by beating and choking Stark and slicing her throat after they returned to her Carlsbad residence following a night of drinking and kissing last July 31.

“What a stupid reason to commit a first-degree murder,” Dusek said. “A stupid decision, and we’re stuck with it.”

Stark’s older brother told the defendant he had no right to kill his sister.

“You unleashed your wrath against her,” Brooks Engelhardt said.

Engelhardt said he was awakened by his mother when she got the call that Stark had been killed.

“She (my mother) said, ‘My daughter’s been murdered … and they think John did it,’” he told the judge.

Engelhardt — who said news of his sister’s death came two weeks after the death of their grandmother — told French that he took Stark from her children in an “extreme act of cruelty.”

Robert Engelhardt said he regrets not being there to protect his sister from French.

“John, all our family ever showed you was kindness, yet you have given us pure evil,” the victim’s younger brother said. “You killed my sister over a cell phone message. We feel so betrayed.

“How dare you besmirch her name and then try to weasel out on manslaughter,” the brother told the defendant. “You’re a sick, horrible excuse for a man.”

Cynthia Kerr said her cousin’s murder has been extremely hard on the victim’s two children.

“The second I met you, I did not like you,” Kerr told the defendant. “Malignant monsters like you should never be allowed to enter the free world again.”

Arretta Engelhardt said her daughter was “trusting and forgiving” and wanted to make the relationship with French work so she wouldn’t have to be alone.

“She was in over her head,” Stark’s mother said. “You robbed her of her life and you robbed her children of their beloved mother. She was a masterpiece of God, like we all are.”

The victim’s mutilated and nearly decapitated body was discovered by her 15-year-old son when he came home about 11 p.m.

“We’re haunted by the cries of our grandson screaming, ‘No, no, no!’” Arretta Engelhardt said.

Stark’s mother called French — who was trained in martial arts — a “menace to society.”

“John, you sure taught her a lesson,” she told the defendant. “Does that make you feel tough?”

One of Stark’s girlfriends, Andrea Rocca, said she and others had a “red flag” against the defendant.

“You are a loser,” Rocca told French. “You deserve to be forgotten.”

Rocca called the defendant an “egotistical, selfish monster.”

“I will never speak your name again,” she told French.

Before pronouncing the sentence, Spinetta called French a “narcissistic, controlling sociopath and con man” who was unable to control his rage and and temper whenever he was slighted.

Defense attorney Kenneth Kaminski told jurors during the trial that French killed Stark in the heat of passion and should be convicted of voluntary manslaughter.

French, testifying in his own defense, said it wasn’t anger that caused him to punch Stark after reading “flirtatious and suggestive” text messages from another man.

“I just absolutely snapped,” the defendant said. “I went from zero to a thousand.”

French said he felt rage like he had never felt before and hit Stark, sending her to the ground.

French said he hit Stark a few more times and grabbed the unconscious woman by the neck. The defendant said he grabbed a knife, but didn’t really remember slicing Stark’s throat.

Dr. Jonathan Lucas testified that Stark suffered at least 14 distinct slice wounds to her neck — which was fractured — and was also beaten about the face and choked into unconsciousness.

The fatal blow was a 5 1/2-inch cut to the front of the victim’s neck that went all the way to her spine, the deputy medical examiner said. He said the wound went through the carotid artery and jugular vein and cut across Stark’s airway and esophagus.

French said he and Stark had been through numerous break-ups and reconciliations from the time they met in the fall of 2006. The defendant said they bought a house together, but it went into foreclosure when his real estate appraisal business went south.

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