Deputies: Florida teens killed man during sexual encounter, then set him on fire

Jerry Johnsey and Byron Lasiak, jail booking photos. Teens accused of killing a man during sex then setting him on fire (WFLA)
Jerry Johnsey and Byron Lasiak, jail booking photos. Teens accused of killing a man during sex then setting him on fire (WFLA)

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) – Two Polk County teens are facing first-degree murder charges in connection with the disturbing murder of a man that detectives say happened during a sexual encounter.

Donald Merkley, 67, was found dead in his house on Timberline Road on January 11, after a fire at his home.

Detectives initially believed the fire was caused by a small electric heater, and ruled it accidental. But, when one of the teens came forward with details about what happened, the fire turned into a murder investigation.

Detectives say Byron Lasiak, 16, of Winter Haven told them that he and Jerry Johnsey, 18, of Auburndale went to Merkley’s home around 4 p.m. on January 10 to have sex with Merkley.

Detectives say that Johnsey told them he put Merkley in a choke hold during the sexual encounter. Merkley passed out and then Johnsey hit him in the head with a baseball bat.

The teens then rummaged through Merkley’s house until they found some gas and poured the gas throughout the home and on Merkley. Johnsey took $2.75 off the kitchen counter as the teens left the home.

Detectives say around 10 a.m. the next day, Johnsey returned to the home and went inside. He poured more gas on Merkley’s body and throughout the home. Johnsey then lit a match.

Johnsey told detectives that after he set the fire, he called Lasiak and said, “Don’t worry about it. I just torched the place.”

Johnsey later told detectives that he met Merkley on Craigslist and had planned to rob him while at his house.

Johnsey and Lasiak were charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit robbery and robbery with a weapon. Johnsey also faces an arson charge. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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