A woman who stabbed her boyfriend 100 times, her dog and herself was suffering a ‘psychotic episode’ caused by cannabis, according to an expert witness.
Bryn Spejcher, 32, originally from Chicago, is said to have smoked pot just five to ten times in her life, according to testimony heard in the trial that started last week at the Superior Court of California.
In May 2018, she took two inhalation on a bong — a water pipe used for smoking marijuana — that belonged to her boyfriend Chad O’Melia, while at his Thousand Oaks apartment.
Moments later, she began to fell unwell and started to hear voices in her head, according to her testimony.
The court heard that she then grabbed three knives from the kitchen block and hurled them at O’Melia before stabbing him on every part of his body, leaving fatal wounds on his heart, lungs and vital arteries through his neck.
Bryn Spejcher, 32, (left) is accused of involuntary manslaughter for the killing of Chad O’Melia. She says her attack where she stabbed him 100 times was caused by cannabis use
She then stabbed her dog and began repeatedly driving an eight-inch bread knife into her face and neck.
The former audiologist was originally charged with second-degree murder, however the district attorney reduced the charge to involuntary manslaughter in September.
The change – which could reduce the time in custody from 25 years to four -was triggered by testimony from a top forensic psychiatrist, who claimed Ms Spejcher’s crimes were sparked by cannabis-induced psychosis.
Spejcher, an audiologist, is pictured above at her trial in Ventura, California with her attorney Robert Schwartz. The Chicago native had rarely used weed but never got high, according to court reports, while O’Melia is said to have used his bong every day
A psychiatrist’s testimony said she was suffering from cannabis-induced psychosis, adding that in she appeared to be ‘possessed’ in footage taken with police body cameras when they arrived at the scene. The drug is known to cause psychosis, especially if it is used at high strength
Cannabis use is now legal recreationally in 24 states including California.
Last week, Ohio becoming the latest to give the drug the green light just last week.
Doctors are concerned there is a higher risk of this condition because THC levels — the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that’s responsible for the ‘high’ — keep rising in marijuana products.
Studies show THC content in cannabis products has more than quadrupled over just two decades, rising from four percent in 1995 to 17 percent by 2017.
Parents of youngsters using the drug have also described the drug as now being high potency and very different from the ‘Woodstock weed’ they remembered.
There is no way to determine the THC level in the cannabis inhaled by Spejcher, but in pre-trial hearings it was suggested that the pot she had used was much stronger than other forms of the drug cannabis.
Spejcher was initially charged with murder, but this was dropped to involuntary manslaughter after evidence from the psychiatrist was heard.
O’Melia’s father contends that Spejcher acted with malicious intent to kill his son
O’Melia’s father Sean O’Melia says that Spejcher knew what she was doing and ‘viciously and prematurely ended’ his son’s life. He has begun a TikTok channel calling for justice for his son.
This comes even as doctors continue to raise the alarm over widespread marijuana legalization and warn how high strength marijuana is now becoming more common than its lower strength alternatives.
Spejcher is currently standing trial with a jury at Ventura County Superior Court, which on Thursday heard evidence for the case. She denies all charges.
It is believed to be the first case where the killer was handed marijuana by their victim before the attack took place.
Spejcher and O’Melia met at a dog park in the spring of 2018 and had begun to see each other regularly — bonding over their love of dogs with him having a German shepherd called Athena and her a husky named Arya.
The trial with a jury has now begun and is expected to last for several weeks. If she is convicted of involuntary manslaughter, she could face up to four years in jail
‘She liked Chad,’ her attorney Robert Schwartz told the jury during his opening statement. ‘There was never any conflict… It was an entirely harmonious relationship.’
On the night of 27 May, 2018, when the attack took place, O’Melia had asked her to his apartment which he shared with two roommates.
The pair initially watched TV and talked a little before, just after midnight, O’Melia asked her whether she would like to try some weed out of his bong.
This was a daily activity for O’Melia but not for Spejcher, who had only used the drug a few times in the past and never experienced a high.
She took a few puffs but told O’Melia she didn’t feel anything, which allegedly led him to say he would ‘get something more intense’.
He is alleged to have then packed the bowl again, lit his bong and filled the chamber with smoke, holding his hand over the opening and then moving it away to allow Spejcher to inhale.
She had an ‘immediate negative reaction’, prosecutor Audry Nofzinger said.
In pre-trial testimony, she is described as having gone to the bathroom but starting to suffer blurry vision, being unable to breathe and feeling like she was dying.
She told law enforcement that she then heard voices in her head telling her to start to fight, at which point she went to the kitchen, grabbed knives from the knife block and started stabbing O’Melia.
‘She thought she was dead,’ she prosecutor Ms Nofzinger. ‘She had an out-of-body experience.
‘She could see her own dead body, and she could hear voices, emergency room doctors doing CPR, her family, other voices, unknown voices, telling her that to bring herself back to life, she would have to kill Chad O’Melia.’
O’Melia suffered stab wounds all over his body, including to the heart, lungs and carotid artery in the neck — with each possibly proving fatal.
Footage from police body cameras shown in court also shows Spejcher by O’Melia’s body while she stabs herself repeatedly in the neck and face.
Forensic pathologist, Dr Kris Mohandie, who has over 20 years experience in the assessment and management of violent behavior, previously told the prosecution in a review revealed in September that her state was a sign of cannabis-induced psychosis.
He described her as appearing ‘possessed’ in the footage, which was consistent with acute psychosis.
In a review, he added that the stabbing of ‘her own beloved dog, without any evidence of animal cruelty tendencies, is highly inconsistent with her love of dogs and underscores her level of impairment’.
Psychosis is a mental condition characterized by a disconnection from reality, where sufferers may suffer from hallucinations, disorganized thoughts or even say they are hearing voices.
This can be caused by cannabis use, doctors say, which contains the active compound tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC).
O’Melia and Spejcher initially bonded over their shared love of dogs and had been seeing each other for several weeks before the attack took place
This substance is able to cause an imbalance in neurotransmitters in the brain — including dopamine — which can cause psychosis.
The condition is becoming more prevalent over time because manufacturers are continuing to raise the THC levels in their products above the four percent naturally found in the plant.
Regular use of quantities above ten percent are linked to a higher risk of addiction, violent behavior and a newly recognized condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or ‘scromiting’.
‘It means screaming and violent vomiting,’ Dr Roneet Lev, an emergency doctor at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego previously told DailyMail.com.
‘I call it the audible cannabis condition, because I hear the violent screams down the hall before I see the patient.’
Before 2016, Dr Lev rarely saw patients with this problem. Now she sees at least one per shift. Symptoms can continue for days, or weeks, and there is no effective treatment.
The mask has been slipping on the claimed health effects of cannabis, with the industry valued at $13billion last year, in recent years.
Studies are now starting to build up linking regular cannabis use to a higher risk of health problems including major depression, bipolar disorder and psychosis.
Police arrived at Chad O’Melia’s apartment in May 2018 to find him with multiple stab wounds and his girlfriend, Bryn Spejcher, stabbing herself repeatedly
Those using high-strength versions are up to five times more likely to face a psychotic disorder, studies have also found.
There have already been at least two killings in the US and Canada where cannabis has been linked to perpetrators actions.
In 2014, a 50-year-old man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder — which involves a sudden impulsive act — and was sentenced to 30 years in jail after shooting his wife in the head at the couple’s home in Denver, Colorado.
Richard Kirk was initially charged with first-degree murder — which is premediated or deliberate — but this was dropped after the defense argued that marijuana, which Kirk was consuming for back pain, had severely impaired his judgement.
They had also argued he had suffered ‘involuntary intoxication’ because he did not know he was at high risk for marijuana psychosis due to schizophrenia in his extended family.
In 2018, a Canadian man from Ontario was sentenced to five years in prison for stabbing and beheading his father in front of friends.
The court heard how Adam Kehl, then 31, was a heavy cannabis user but was not aware that the drug could trigger his actions.
He pleaded guilty to a charge of manslaughter, which was filed after a psychiatrist said he was suffering from cannabis-induced intoxication.
At sentencing, he said in a statement: ‘I accept the consequences. I understand the fact that my marijuana use was a key factor in what happened. I was not aware marijuana use could do such a thing. Had I known, I never would have started.’
Judge Michelle Fuest described the case as ‘horrifying and unusually brutal’.
Spejcher’s trial began yesterday, with the court shown police body-cam footage of the scene upon their arrival. It is set to last for several weeks.
It shows Spejcher kneeling over O’Melia’s body and stabbing herself in the neck with an eight-inch serrated bread knife.
Officers used a stun gun on her repeatedly with no effect, and were only able to get her to drop the knife when another officer struck her nine times with his retractable steel baton.
Many of the audience members gasped, cried out or covered their eyes when the video was played, reports the VC Star. Others held their hands over their mouths.
Spejcher lowered her head and cried as the video played and her mother broke down, falling to the floor and sobbing. O’Melia’s father left the courtroom just before the clip began.
The jury will need to determine whether Spejcher’s intoxication which led to the attack was voluntary or involuntary.
To show her use was involuntary, attorneys may argue that she could not have foreseen the possible effects of the weed she smoked, that she was coerced or deceived into smoking it, or that there was another substance added to it without her knowledge.
The defense said witnesses will testify in support of all three of these suggestions.
Spejcher had no history of mental illness the night before she killed O’Melia and, the defense claims, no way to know that what she was smoking would trigger the episode.
They also claim she did not want to smoke that night but was pressured into it by O’Melia.
Lab tests detected THC in the blood of both O’Melia and Spejcher and the only marijuana found in the apartment was a few grams from an unlicensed delivery service which was at about four percent THC.
This is well below the levels in most cannabis sold at legal dispensaries, with THC levels being routinely above 20 percent or even stronger.
The defense also described Spejcher as being of good character, saying she was an audiologist at UCLA Health who was working to help others with hearing after almost completely losing her’s at a young age.
O’Melia was working at an accounting firm where he was studying to be a public accountant.