AYER — An Ayer woman who fatally stabbed her cousin in September 2018 received a sentence of eight to 10 years in prison after admitting to the crime in Lowell Superior Court on Friday.
Laqwanda Villaronga, 27, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and assault with a dangerous weapon for killing 24-year-old Jonathan Merritt, of Ayer, following an argument, according to a Middlesex District Attorney’s Office press release.
In addition to Villaronga’s prison term, Judge Kathe Tuttman sentenced the Ayer resident to five years probation with the condition she wear a GPS monitoring device, attend anger management classes and submit to random drug screens.
Villaronga was also ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation, attend parenting classes, maintain or actively seek employment or an educational program, and serve 100 hours of community service. The community service will be suspended if Villaronga obtains a job or attends an educational program.
The incident that led to Merritt’s death unfolded at the Zodiac Village Apartments on Groton School Road at around 1:20 p.m. Sept. 28, 2018.
Merritt was at Villaronga’s apartment to watch her children overnight, Assistant District Attorney Suzanne Kontz said during a previous court appearance for the case. Her children were in school at the time and, eventually, Villaronga arrived home.
The cousins were doing drugs and drinking when they began to argue, Kontz said. Villaronga told police that Merritt began “poking” and “taunting” her during the argument, according to the prosecutor.
Villaronga then stabbed her cousin with an 8- to 10-inch kitchen knife, which pierced Merritt’s heart.
Ayer police officers responded to the scene to find Merritt suffering from the stab wound. The 24-year-old was rushed to Nashoba Valley Medical Center where he was later pronounced dead.
Police detained Villaronga at the scene of the crime.
Villaronga was initially charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury. Kontz later withdrew that assault charge and filed paperwork to have Villaronga instead arraigned on a new charge of murder during the defendant’s dangerousness hearing in October 2018.
During a previous interview with The Sun, Rob Fleming of Ayer — a friend of Merritt — described the 24-year-old as a “joker” with a “good sense of humor.”
“He’s very outgoing and polite,” Fleming said.
Fleming’s two sons were also friends with Merritt, who stayed at his house during the day and often went to Villaronga’s apartment to watch her children at night.
Fleming’s son, who declined to be named at the time of the interview, said he had known Merritt since middle school. The two attended Ayer Shirley Regional High School together, he said.
According to Fleming, Merritt had two children and was looking for a job.
“I think he had a bright future ahead of him,” he said.
An investigation into the case was conducted by the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, Ayer police, state police assigned to the District Attorney’s Office and the Massachusetts State Police Crime Scene Services Section.
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis