The Murky Story Behind the Woman Who Stabbed Her Date to Death While High

It was a story straight out of Reefer Madness: A young woman smokes weed and proceeds to stab her date more than 100 times, killing him, before turning the knife on herself and her beloved dog. Tragic, stranger than fiction, and horrifying — the incident captured the headlines for its extreme violence. And, later, gathered even more attention when the woman in question was sentenced to only two years’ probation and 100 hours of community service. 

Prosecutors argued that the horrific crime and its attendant lenient sentence could lead to dangerous new precedents when it comes to marijuana and its effects — especially with weed becoming legal in a growing number of states — but the defense claims the circumstances around what she smoked and why are not entirely clear.

Last week, Bryn Spejcher, 33, was sentenced for the 2018 involuntary manslaughter of 26-year-old Chad O’Melia. She was facing around five years after being convicted in December, but, instead, was given just probation and community service by Ventura California County Superior Court Judge David Worley. Experts for both the defense and prosecution had previously determined that the weed had caused her to slip into a psychotic state, and, as such, prosecutors reduced a charge of murder against Spejcher to involuntary manslaughter. Still, the sentencing was a shock for many. 

“It sets a very dangerous precedent,” Audry Nafziger, who prosecuted the case for the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, told NBC. She adds to Rolling Stone: “As the prosecutor on this case and someone who has spent 29 years fighting for justice, the sentence makes a mockery of the criminal legal system. … Of all the involuntary manslaughter cases I have ever heard of, this is the most heinous and violent.”

O’Melia’s family is also reeling. “There are people right now in jail just for possession of marijuana. We can’t apply our laws based on someone’s age, skin color, occupation,” Chad’s father, Sean O’Melia, told the Daily Mail, noting that Spejcher is a young, white woman. “That marijuana is being sold all over Thousand Oaks and you don’t see hundreds of dead people everywhere.… There is clearly something unique about that girl’s chemistry that meant that this happened.” (Experts for both the prosecution and defense found no evidence of mental issues or violent tendencies in an evaluation.)

According to Spejcher’s lawyers, though, it’s not as simple as preferential treatment or a mental issue. There were factors at play, they say, that converged to make this both a singular case and a kind of warning for those who see marijuana as solely a “chill” drug. “The prosecution drew the analogy at trial that our case was the equivalent of a DUI,” lawyer Robert Schwartz tells Rolling Stone. “That’s not what we have here. Bryn did not know what was in the bong. That’s the whole point. This case hinges on its unique circumstances. And it is not a license, as has been suggested by some people in the media, for people to get high [and kill someone].”

Going back to the night of O’Melia’s death, things started off pretty normally. The two — who had been dating for a few weeks after meeting at a dog park — were hanging out at O’Melia’s apartment when Spejcher took two hits from O’Melia’s bong. The second hit came after she claimed not to feel anything, and allegedly under duress from O’Melia. Spejcher claimed she was not all that experienced with weed, despite the prosecution’s assertion that she “enjoyed getting intoxicated.” (Spejcher declined Rolling Stone’s request for comment.)

According to her testimony, after the second hit, Spejcher initially felt like she was caught in a time loop, and then became convinced she was dead. She then said she felt she was outside her body, watching her hands pick up two knives as they stabbed both her dog and O’Melia. Then, she said, everything went black. While blacked out, Spejcher began stabbing herself in the neck with a long, serrated bread knife.

O’Melia’s roommate, Vinnie Oliviera, called the police, whose bodycams caught the tail-end of the incident. Police tased her four times — which she seemingly did not react to — and hit her with a baton nine times to get her to drop the knife; her arm was broken in five places. She was taken to the hospital, and, while intubated, answered authorities’ questions by writing out her answers. When asked what happened, her lawyer says, she wrote: “I told him I didn’t want any more. He made me take the second hit.”

That statement is the rub between defense and prosecution — and when it was raised at trial, the jury rejected the idea that she was “involuntarily intoxicated” at the time, in that she did not choose to smoke that second hit. “He got up from his chair and turned the bong toward my face, rushed it to my face and was pressuring me, ‘Hurry up, hurry up, you’ve got to inhale,’” Spejcher said in her testimony. “It all happened so fast. I felt like I couldn’t say no, and I inhaled out of the bong.” Nafziger rejected that claim, saying in court that Spejcher willingly took the hit. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she adds that Spejcher initially wrote a statement after the incident that stated that she knowingly took the second hit. She claims that the document was initially withheld from the prosecution.

“The fact that Spejcher reached out to Chad that night, drove to his house at 10:30 p.m., and asked him for some of his MJ corroborates the obvious: she wanted to get high,” Nafziger tells Rolling Stone. “For anyone involved in the case to continue to float the idea that this was not voluntary flies in the face of the evidence, the findings of the jury, and is another failed attempt to blame the victim, which in my view is both cruel and untrue.”

Still, Spejcher’s lawyers claim that there were circumstances at play that night that made her consent to smoke beyond her control. Also, they say, she was a naive user who could never have guessed the marijuana would have that potent a reaction. First, they allege, she was unaware of an incident prior to that night when O’Melia’s roommate Oliveria smoked from that same bong and began to hallucinate that he was dead, shedding his clothes and calling for help. Lawyers postulate that it was the same weed Spejcher smoked. Additionally, the product that they smoked that evening was reportedly ordered from an illicit delivery service and carried a warning that it was for high-tolerance users only. Finally, they claim, O’Melia stacked his three-foot bong with several hits of marijuana before giving it to Spejcher, which made it even more potent.

According to her lawyers, authorities tested the bong after the incident but were only able to determine that it contained THC, not its potency or if there were any other substances in it. Dr. Daniel Buffington, a medical expert for the defense, tells Rolling Stone that drug testing isn’t one hundred percent foolproof and that the weed was purchased from an illicit source and therefore could have been laced with other substances that may not have come up in testing.

“Even our best national forensic labs will acknowledge that until they see a chemical structure frequently enough, it’s not included in the scope of what that test is looking for,” he says. “So it is still in this case possible that there was, in addition to the high potency, something else laced into it.”

Still, he’s of the opinion that marijuana isn’t always as safe as the public has been led to believe — a sentiment shared not only by the prosecution but forensic psychiatrist Dr. Ziv Cohen. “Marijuana has become so accepted and so many people use it and view it as harmless that people are having a hard time accepting that this can actually happen,” he tells Rolling Stone. “The data and the research is very, very clear that marijuana is associated with psychosis [and with] developing severe illnesses. That doesn’t mean that most people who use marijuana will develop those kinds of conditions. But when you have very large amounts of people in a population using marijuana, then you do see that a certain percentage of them are probably going to develop psychosis as a result of their marijuana use.”

An oft-cited 2019 study from The Lancet Psychiatry journal suggested that there may be a correlation between daily marijuana use and psychosis, but NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano previously told Rolling Stone to take such studies with a grain of salt, as it’s not entirely clear if people are suffering from psychosis as a result of marijuana or self-medicating with the drug. The study also took place in European cities, where weed was largely illegal at the time and often sold on the illicit market, making its potency suspect.

As for Spejcher’s sentence, Cohen allows that “there is no precedent of which I am aware of someone being ordered to do community service for a homicide.” Meital Manzuri, a lawyer who has worked in the cannabis space for years, also says that she’s never seen a case quite like this one. “I’ve never heard of anything this dramatic,” she tells Rolling Stone. “Psychosis isn’t super uncommon, I think what’s uncommon is a violent response. Who knows what the real circumstances are? But as far as a precedent, I think there are probably some clever defense attorneys who will reevaluate their cases if there’s any chance that they could raise this.” No one Rolling Stone interviewed could say for sure if such a crime has happened before.


In the end, though, two families are broken. The O’Melias, of course; Chad’s mother died a little over a year after her son. She suffered from diabetes and, in grief, stopped taking care of herself, according to Chad’s father. And the Spejchers are also, in a sense, grieving for the life their daughter no longer leads. 

“The last five and a half years of her life have been spent in therapy to deal with the post-traumatic stress disorder that she suffered as a result of this,” Spejcher’s other lawyer, Michael Goldstein, tells Rolling Stone. “That the O’Melia family lost their son is not lost on her. She’ll never forget and she’ll never live a normal life. This was a tragedy. And, unfortunately, two families have been torn apart as a result of that.”