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Man pleads not guilty to fatal attack on former girlfriend

CARLSBAD — A La Costa man accused of slaying his ex-girlfriend was arraigned Aug. 10 in downtown San Diego Superior Court for first-degree murder.
Jennifer Stark, a popular North County court reporter, was found by her 15-year-old son in a pool of blood with her neck cut around 11:20 p.m. July 31 as he and a friend entered the residence, according to court documents filed by Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe.
Nearly five hours later, Stark’s on-again, off-again boyfriend of three years, Jonathan Scott French, called 911 from a pay phone outside the sheriff department’s Encinitas substation telling the dispatcher his name and requesting deputies come out and arrest him, Watanabe stated in court documents.
Deputies noted cuts to French’s wrists and a cut to his inner thigh, according to court documents.
French, 40, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder with the allegation that he used a deadly weapon, an approximately 1-foot-long kitchen knife, to commit the crime. He remains in custody on $15 million bail.
His next scheduled court appearance is a readiness conference set for Sept. 15.
According to court documents, Stark, 43, told a friend she was meeting with French for one last dinner to get closure in their relationship. The couple had drinks in Carlsbad and then dinner at Bistro West on Avenida Encinas, court documents state. A videotape from the restaurant shows them “making out” and leaving at 9:56 p.m., Watanabe wrote.
Stark, who French said was drunk, left her car in the parking lot, court documents state. Around 11 p.m. French called his ex-wife and told her he was going to drop off their 10-year-old daughter at her house, the prosecutor wrote. His daughter noticed that when he came home to pick her up he smeared blood on the light switch, according to court documents.
“Don’t believe what they are going to tell you about me,” French told his daughter on the ride over to his ex-wife’s house, court documents state.
Stark is survived by her son and 18-year-old daughter. For the last nine years, she worked as a court reporter at the San Diego Superior Courthouse in Vista.
The case is being handled by the Honorable Rodney L. Walker, a retired Riverside County Superior Court Judge, in downtown San Diego because of Stark’s relationship to the Vista Superior Court.
An investigation by authorities into French’s past revealed a prior domestic violence incident out of Pensacola, Fla., in 1992, in which he battered and strangled his girlfriend at the time, Watanabe wrote. French’s discharge from the Navy was a direct result of that incident, court documents state.
Additionally, French, a medical supplies salesman, has convictions for driving under the influence and disturbing the peace, both misdemeanors. The latter was part of a plea agreement in which French had initially been charged with battery causing serious bodily injury.
French faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.