In sheriff's records Jane McKay is described as 5 feet 2 inches tall and 140 pounds. She probably told deputies that her eyes are green and her hair is blonde, that information is there too. But her hair was completely white when McKay was brought into court in March of 2018. Maybe she meant platinum blonde. And her eyes mostly looked bloodshot, maybe from crying.
That morning in the Vista courthouse McKay was dressed in a gray sweatshirt that had S D JAIL stenciled across the back. She had on dark blue denim pants, and thick gray socks and orange plastic flip-flops. She was handcuffed, both hands, to the chains around her waist. This is typical for anyone who is brought into court while in custody in San Diego County. McKay appeared to walk with difficulty but she made it to the defense table, where her public defender greeted her.
Jane Louise Petersen McKay might be the original Baby Boomer. She was born after the end of World War II, in late 1945. She is now 72 years old. She has been living in California for many years, but still speaks with a soft North Carolina accent. She projects a gentle demeanor. She answered the judge with a soft, girlish voice and pleaded not-guilty to felony assault.
The alleged victim of McKay’s reputed assault was the first person to testify at a preliminary hearing on March 26, 2018.
Witness Sheri Comaroto came into court wearing a well-fitted wig that flattered her face, even if the hair color was a bit purple. She wore a new green shirt, with fashionable angel-flared sleeves, atop a black skirt. Black hosiery and tall black boots completed her neat appearance.
Sheri Comaroto said she was 58 years old, 5 feet 4 inches tall and, 160 pounds.
A spectator might think Sheri Comaroto and Jane McKay were well-matched, they looked fairly similar. Well-matched to be roommates. Or for a contest of wills. Except, when Sheri Comaroto walked into court she moved easily and happily. In contrast, McKay moved with difficulty and plainly did not want to be in her predicament.
Public defender Amanda Edmonson said that McKay has been diagnosed with a spinal condition. Her health troubles made it impossible for McKay to manage, by herself, the 26-acre property she inherited from her late husband. The sprawling ranch in Fallbrook has more than 580 avocado trees.
And so in the last few years McKay had been inviting people to move onto her property, to help her with the many ranch chores. And she needed personal help, too; for example, she needed someone to drive her to appointments.
But soon her property became so populated with “helpers” — one witness described them as “squatters” — that her hoped-for blessings eventually became a curse to her.
They had been friends
Witness Sheri Comaroto said she had been friends with Jane McKay for almost ten years. In 2009 she shared a home in Temecula with Jane. Comaroto told the judge. She paid Jane $300 per month rent at that time, and they were housemates for about a year.
In paperwork she filed in a small-claims court case, McKay stated that Comaroto has not paid her any rent since she moved onto her Fallbrook property, that stay began in June of 2016. McKay asserted that Comaroto continued to live on her property and failed to pay any rent up until the present; that paperwork was filed on December 29, 2017.
Public records show that property taxes are past due on the property at 550 Stewart Canyon Road. And that property is currently listed for sale on realtor.com
While she was in the witness box on March 26, Sheri Comaroto confirmed that she continues to live on the property.
In a cottage
“She asked me to move in after her husband died,” the first witness, Sheri Comaroto told the judge.
Comaroto said she is currently staying in a cottage that is downhill from the main home on the acres owned by Jane McKay. In the northern part of San Diego County, Stewart Canyon Road gently curves between two low hills, and is framed by tall oak trees, with lush pasture on either side. It seems an oasis from the harshness of the world. Dotted on the sloping sides of the canyon are custom homes with acreage in between.
Comaroto said she moved into the cottage, near the main house where Jane McKay lived, at the older woman’s invitation. “We made an agreement that I would stay there and help her out.”
Comaroto described how she assisted McKay: “Cleaned, helped her out, fed the animals, and usually drove her when we went somewhere.”
The defense attorney, Amanda Edmonson, asked Comaroto if money ever changed hands between her and McKay. Comaroto thought for a moment and replied, “I have paid her back for the move that she paid for, when I moved there.”
Edmonson asked Comaroto again, if she ever paid any money to McKay for rent, to live there in the cottage, but Comaroto was adamant, “I did fee for service.” Comaroto explained, “I bought products, I fed the animals, I did laundry, things for Jane, to stay there. But I don’t exchange money with her.”
Comaroto admitted that McKay did ask her to start paying rent in money. “Throughout the whole time I lived there, well, the past, since she moved me into the property, this is how much you owe in rent, she would write me notes.” Comaroto said that McKay left those notes around her home.
“But I told her I was paying rent, that was the agreement.” Comaroto insisted the deal was that she would perform her helpful services as payment of rent, instead of paying with money.
Her friend Stephanie
It was a little before midnight, the night of February 13, 2017, that Jane McKay allegedly assaulted Sheri Comaroto.
Comaroto said it happened when she went into the main house, bringing food to her new friend Stephanie. “I just met her when she moved in, the end of last year,” Comaroto explained how she knew Stephanie. “I would consider her a friend.”