SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A man was convicted last week in a 2010 murder during a home invasion following a cold-case investigation that spanned over three years.
A local jury found John Francis Meskell, 47, guilty of one count of first-degree murder on Friday. The verdict follows a not-guilty plea by Meskell, whose legal team struggled to overcome a plethora of DNA evidence presented by the District Attorney’s Office. A gun charge, previously levied against Meskell for unlawfully possessing a .38 caliber pistol as a felon, was dismissed.
Now, Meskell faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. He returns for sentencing on January 28 before Judge Ernest Sawtelle.
According to a law enforcement affidavit obtained and released by The Update, Meskell and another man, Thinh Huu Tran, broke into Cristian’s home over a decade ago in Fair Oaks and began to lie in wait. The men were targeting Cristian’s brother, Marius, a local drug dealer.
Tran was a member of the Sacramento Bad Boys, a Laotian street gang that operated out of Oak Park, and was previously convicted of burglary and drug offenses. Meskell was convicted of felony possession of stolen property in 1996.
In the early morning hours of February 8, Marius entered the home and was promptly accosted by Meskell and Tran. As the group struggled, Tran pistol-whipped Marius and fired off a shot near his face, leaving a grazing laceration above the man’s forehead and stippling around his eye. While Tran and Marius scrapped, Meskell broke off and descended further into the house to confront Cristian.
Marius continued to fight Tran, who eventually backtracked and ran out of the house with Marius chasing behind him. After Tran fled the premesis, Marius looked through his bedroom window and saw Meskell standing over his brother, Cristian, attempting to tie his hands. He armed himself with a roof shovel and went to save him.
Marius entered the room and threw the shovel at Meskell to distract him while arming himself with a shotgun. Meskell turned and fired several rounds towards Marius, narrowly missing Marius and causing damage to his bedroom wall and window.
After Marius found the shotgun, both he and Meskell went for the weapon. Cristian reached for the weapon’s barrel, and it suddenly went off, striking him in the abdomen. He crawled into an adjacent bedroom and was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. Meskell was observed by a neighbor, Jason Wolfe, who saw him run from the Anton house on foot and leave in a Ford pick-up truck.
Following the killing, homicide detectives began to investigate, primarily by questioning Marius and his various drug connections. The case soon became cold.
Months later, the District Attorney’s Office Crime Lab notified authorities of a DNA match in an open robbery case. DNA from Meskell, already in the system, was found on a pair of zip-ties used to restrain an elderly couple in Land Park during a home invasion a year prior.
Two suspects, one heavyset, broke into the home of Lee and May Kwong. Lee, 88, was struck in the head and bled heavily. Officials searched Meskell’s home and seized two pistols and four pills containing methamphetamine. Meskell told authorities that the pistols were kept in his garage by an Asian friend, Tim, later identified as Mr. Tran.
Meskell was later acquitted of robbing the Kwongs, but pleaded guilty to illegally possessing the two guns found in his home. One of the pistols, an Astra .22, didn’t return positive swabs for Meskell or the Kwongs. Instead, it was a match for Marius Anton. The gun matched a spent .22 casing found at the murder scene, and in 2017, the investigation was reopened with Meskell and Tran as prime suspects.
In 2019, a new test by the District Attorney’s Office Crime Lab revealed that a mixture of DNA was found on a zip-tie found at the murder scene. The mixture was partially made of DNA from Cristian Anton and an unknown male contributor.
Criminalist Ryan Nickell, tasked with examining the test results, found that Meskell was the unknown party. Nickell had determined that it was 1000 times more likely that the DNA belonged to Anton and Meskell than Anton and someone else.