WINTER HAVEN, FL — Byron Lasiak, 16, and Jerry Johnsey, 18, presently face felony charges of first-degree murder for the death of Donald Merkley, 67. Johnsey has also been charged with arson. The case centers on the teenagers’ alleged plot to use a “Men Seeking Men” ad on Craigslist to extort money from the elderly victim.
In the end, Lasiak and Johnsey’s grand schemed netted them a total of $2.75 — loose change they scooped up off of Merkley’s kitchen counter.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said that he believes that David Merkely logged on to Craiglist to look for a casual gay hook-up. Once there, he came across an ad placed by Johnsey.
Reportedly, the teens’ plot was to get Merkley to have sex with the underage Lasiak, and then blackmail him for cash to keep them from going to the cops. Sheriff Judd clarified: “I don’t think [Merkley] was a pedophile. I think he was after sex, and he got a lot more than he bargained for. He got a red hot deal.”
At first, everything went according to plan. The teens met Merkley at his home. Eventually, Merkley even engaged in a sex act with Lasiak, but — rather than take a video for extortion purposes — Johnsey violently assaulted the older man.
According to the arrest report, Johnsey put Merkley in a chokehold and strangled him with a belt. Lasiak allegedly finished the lethal attack by cracking Merkley’s skull open with a baseball bat.
The next day, Johnsey returned to the scene, doused the inside of the house and Merkley’s remains with gasoline, and lit it all ablaze.
The fire was intended to destroy evidence to disguise what happened. It almost worked. Investigators initially thought that perhaps Merkley had fallen victim to a faulty space heater and indicated that the fire looked “accidental.”
Last week, though, Byron Lasiak confessed to the police.
Sheriff Judd expressed gratitude to Lasiak for coming forward, stating: “All of this would have come together. It came together sooner because this kid’s conscience was eating him up, and he confessed, and we appreciate it.”
Main photos: Jerry Johnsey (left) and Byron Lasiak [Polk County Sheriff’s Office]