The prosecution and defense have rested.
The jurors have spoken, too.
They ultimately took less than four hours to find Bryn Spejcher guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the brutal, cannabis-induced 2018 fatal stabbing of Chad O’Melia, a Hart High School graduate who was killed in his Thousand Oaks home.
But family and friends of Chad O’Melia still have a few things to say.
They’ve been trying hard for years to not only try to understand what happened, but also to try to find justice for Chad O’Melia, whose killer remains free on bond while she awaits her Jan. 23 sentencing in Ventura County.
“The community needs to understand, if nothing else, that this girl (Spejcher) was found guilty for what she’s done and Chad had done nothing to deserve this. That’s what the jury said and they did that in very short order,” said Chad’s father, Sean O’Melia.
One of the hardest parts of the ordeal, Sean said in a phone interview Thursday, has been how long it’s taken to get to the sentencing later this month.
He also said he’s looking forward to his chance to address the court at the sentencing for his son’s killer during victim-impact statements, and he hopes the judge will listen when he shares about what this incident has done to his family.
“I’ve not only lost my son, but we lost the boy’s mother as well,” he said, “a year and a half later.”
The night of Chad’s murder
Sean O’Melia said in the three years leading up to Chad’s death, he’d never seen his 26-year-old son happier.
Chad O’Melia was living in his own home and thriving, enjoying his career as an accountant, Sean said.
“He was on his own feet and his trajectory was only going up from there. That was it,” he said. “And she just … he just met the wrong person. Period.”
Chad O’Melia had met Spejcher just a few weeks before she stabbed him to death.
The trial bore out the horrific details of what happened on their last night together in Chad’s home.
The pair smoked a bowl of marijuana together from a pipe. Spejcher had smoked a few times before but had never been high, according to her defense attorney. Her lawyer described her to the jury as a hearing-impaired woman who worked to help others who were hearing-impaired, whose experience with drugs was minimal prior to that tragic evening.
Video shown at the trial depicted what happened after she and Chad O’Melia smoked a second bowl of marijuana.
Ventura County sheriff’s deputies found Spejcher, who claimed she had a psychotic break, stabbing herself while over O’Melia’s body, stopping only after officers used a stun gun on her repeatedly and struck her at least nine times with a retractable steel baton, according to coverage of the opening statements in the Ventura County Star.
Chad had been stabbed more than 100 times.
Justice takes its time, toll
Prosecutors granted a number of extensions to give the defense time to prepare its experts and their testimony, which was very hard on the family, Sean O’Melia said. He said the reasoning he was given by the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office is that prosecutors did not want to give Spejcher any grounds to appeal based on insufficient time to prepare.
But still, the waiting was difficult.
The medical experts for the prosecution ultimately agreed with the defense’s contention that Spejcher was suffering from cannabis-induced psychosis, Sean O’Melia said, which is ultimately why the charges were reduced to involuntary manslaughter from second-degree murder.
The jury did not believe her involuntary intoxication defense, essentially claiming she couldn’t have known or understood the consequences of her action before she smoked the marijuana.
A group of friends who had known his mom, Michelle Larrivee, since they attended first grade together at St. Ferdinand’s in San Fernando, said recently they could see how the tragedy devastated one of their best friends for several years following Chad O’Melia’s death.
“We’re all from the San Fernando Valley — everyone moved to Santa Clarita and so we’ve stayed very close,” said Lu Madison, who spoke with Susanne Norton, Cynthia Salas and Robin Bianchi in her Valencia home about how they tried to support her friend, even as her health declined due to the toll the loss of her son had taken on her.
“It’s literally a sisterhood,” said Bianchi, sharing how the friends helped each other through weddings, divorces, births and most of each other’s significant moments since becoming friends. After everyone moved to the SCV area or nearby, Larrivee was sort of the hub, she said, who helped organize the group.
She was an impeccable host and her home was always the perfect spot for their reunions, the friends agreed.
But after Chad’s death, she changed, Madison said.
“She knew all those details and they absolutely crushed her,” Madison said. “I would say within the first eight, nine months, I think she was in utter shock.”
She struggled to get up in the morning, her friends said.
“She did end up going back to work after a couple of months, I think,” Madison said, referring to Larrivee’s job as a project technician with the city of Santa Clarita, “and then it was just, you know, just us trying to understand what happened ourselves.”
But she was never the same, they said. She felt an enormous sense of guilt if she even caught herself smiling, her friends said.
Her friends tried to be there the best they could, but ultimately, a broken heart left Larrivee constantly distraught. Within 21 months of Chad O’Melia’s death, Larrivee died March 17, 2020, at age 53, of complications of diabetes.
“She would withdraw a little bit more from us and we kept trying to reach out to her because we saw the agony she was in,” Madison said. “She even told us when we would pose for a picture at somebody’s house, and she’d say, ‘Don’t ever take a picture of me smiling.’ Even if she was smiling, she didn’t want anybody to ever think she was ever going to be happy again.”
Carrying on for the family
Madison said that, since Larrivee’s passing, they’ve all shown up for her and Chad, and they also planned to be there in court Jan. 23.
“We have attended every single one of those hearings,” Madison said, “because she can’t be there.”
Sean O’Melia said the support has meant the world to his family. He and Michelle divorced years back, but as part of his Irish Catholic upbringing, he would always be there for the mother of their two sons when he could.
“I cannot tell you how grateful I am for Lucretia and Michelle’s friends’ support,” Sean O’Melia said recently. “They have been like a rock for our family, and we’ve needed them. And they’ve also been more than that, they’ve been the voice for Chad’s mother,” he said, adding that he hopes to see them in court alongside him later this month.
Over the objection of the Ventura County DA’s office, according to the court record, Spejcher was not remanded into custody after being found guilty.
Sean O’Melia said that, for the sake of justice, he hopes that’s not the case after Judge Anthony J. Sabo holds the sentencing hearing for his son’s killer later this month.
The court found two serious allegations to be untrue — that the crime was a strikable offense and that a deadly weapon was used to commit a felony, which Sean O’Melia found unconscionable, considering he can still recall seeing photos of Spejcher standing over his son with a knife. Both would have required prison time.
Right now, the maximum exposure for Spejcher is four years in prison, according to an email from Joey Buttitta, spokesman for the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office. But the DA’s office is trying to argue for a stiffer sentence.
“The judge could decide to sentence her to anything from probation to four years in state prison,” according to an email Monday from Buttitta.
He said Senior Deputy District Attorney Audry Nafziger “will be asking for prison time,” he wrote. “She will also ask the judge to reconsider his earlier motion where he found the aggravating factor of using a knife to be not true. If he were to reconsider and find it true, that could add one more year to the sentence for a possible total of five.”
With the state law giving the judge significant leeway, O’Melia hopes the judge will understand the depths of the impact Spejcher’s crime has had on his family.
He acknowledged that there’s nothing the judge can do that will bring back his son or bring any relief to what she’s done, he said, but added the system needs to do a better job of supporting the victims of crime.
“As a society we have to stop making victims out of criminals,” he said, “and as a society, we need to stop trying to make criminals out of the true victims.”