By Lester Black
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The trial has begun for a California woman who said smoking marijuana caused her to stab her boyfriend over 100 times, killing him in his apartment in 2018.
Bryn Spejcher, 32, is facing a felony involuntary manslaughter charge in the death of Chad O’Melia, whom Spejcher admitted to stabbing and killing in a 2018 incident at the man’s apartment in Thousand Oaks, California, about 40 miles west of Los Angeles. The trial is taking place in Ventura County Superior Court. Jury selection began this week.
Spejcher was originally charged with murder, but prosecutors asked for the lesser manslaughter charge in September after a forensic psychologist found that Spejcher was “acutely psychotic” during the killing because she had recently smoked marijuana, according to the Ventura County Star.
The prosecutor’s request, which was approved by the trial’s judge, angered O’Melia’s family. The man’s father, Sean O’Melia, said that Spejcher knew what she was doing and “viciously and prematurely ended” his son’s life, according to the Thousand Oaks Acorn.
Ventura County Chief Deputy DA Paul Nuñez defended his office’s decision to lower the charge, saying that a forensic psychologist’s findings made it impossible to prove that Spejcher acted with malice when she stabbed O’Melia over 100 times. The existence of a specific intent to kill the person is required for any murder charge, according to the legal definition of the term.
Spejcher told law enforcement after her arrest in 2018 that she had met O’Melia at a dog park in the spring of 2018 and started regularly seeing him, the Star reported in 2019, citing pretrial testimony from a detective who’d interviewed Spejcher in the hospital after the incident. On May 27, 2018, she went to his condo with her dog and allegedly proceeded to smoke cannabis out of a bong on O’Melia’s porch. She then said she didn’t feel any effects of the drug, so smoked more marijuana and then immediately started to feel sick, the officer relayed, according to the Star.
Spejcher, who was 27 at the time, told law enforcement that she then felt ill, had difficulty breathing and thought she was dying. She then proceeded to hear voices that told her to start fighting, at which point she started stabbing O’Melia, according to the Star.
An autopsy found that O’Melia was stabbed more than 100 times, with wounds to nearly every part of his body, including his jugular vein and carotid artery. Spejcher also allegedly stabbed her dog and herself, requiring surgery to her right jugular vein, according to the Ventura County newspaper.
Neighbors called police after they heard an altercation, then silence followed by a woman screaming, according to a 2018 report by KABC-TV, a local ABC affiliate.
The forensic psychologist said her violence towards her dog, despite her being an animal lover, was more evidence that she was experiencing psychosis, according to the Ventura County Star.
Cannabis can cause temporary symptoms of psychosis in some users, although the link to using cannabis and engaging in violence is unclear. A 2021 study found that cannabis legalization was associated with an increase in the risk of violent self-harm for men under 40, but no increase in self-harm or assault for any other age or sex group. Young men use cannabis more frequently and psychotic disorders disproportionately affect young men, the study authors noted, which could explain the apparent increase in self-harm for young men following cannabis legalization.