A California interior designer stands accused of murdering her stepfather after she found out he had nude pictures of her on his computer.
Jade Janks, 39, has pleaded not guilty to murder charges in the death of 64-year-old Thomas Merriman, a butterfly activist. Mr Merriman’s body was found in January 2021 under a pile of trash in the driveway of Ms Janks’ Solana Beach home after a friend of hers alerted authorities that she had allegedly confessed to the killing, The Coast News reported.
Prosecutors in Vista have argued during the trial, which began last week, that Ms Janks drugged and strangled Mr Merriman after discovering he had a nude picture of her as a screensaver on his computer. The photos were taken by Ms Janks and her then-partner a decade ago — it is not clear how Mr Merriman gained access to them.
Ms Janks’ defence attorneys argued that Mr Merriman’s poor health and past drug use had been contributing factors to his death, which was ruled to be intoxication by Ambien.
“This was no accident,” San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Jorge Del Portillo said, per the San Diego Union-Tribune. “This was murder by design.”
Two friends of Ms Janks testified that they were called to her home when Mr Merriman suffered a fall in December 2020. They reportedly helped Mr Merriman to a car before he was transported to get medical attention.
When he was hospitalised, Ms Janks came across her nude photos on her stepfather’s computer while cleaning his room.
“Jade Janks loved her stepfather,” the defence argued. “ …unfortunately, Tom Merriman was a troubled individual, and he loved her in different ways.”
Ms Janks’ friend, Adam Siplyak, also said in court that she had allegedly told him Mr Merriman’s body was in the trunk of her car on New Year’s Eve 2020. Ms Janks reportedly asked Mr Spilyak for help to move the body to Mr Merriman’s room.
“She said, ‘I killed him, and he’s in the back of my 4Runner,’” Mr Siplyak told the court. “I said, ‘I can’t help you … no way, I’m out of here. I have a son to raise.’”
The next day, Mr Siplyak contacted the police. Mr Merriman’s body was discovered at Ms Jank’s home in Solana Beach on 2 January 2021.
Prosecutors showed texts sent from Ms Janks’ phone to several people, including a “fixer of sorts,” according to NBC.
One of the texts read: “I just dosed the hell out of him. Stopping for whiskey then at Dixieland to stall. LMK.”
Mr Merriman was determined to have died as a result of acute intoxication by Ambien, but prosecutors argued that Ms Janks allegedly tried to asphyxiate him with a plastic bag.
Mr Merriman was a co-founder of the education and research nonprofit Butterfly Farms. The defence argued that although he was no longer married to Ms Janks’ mother, she had cared for him before his death.
If convicted, Ms Janks faces a sentence of life in prison.