Interior designer guilty of killing stepdad who stole nude photos despite claiming he died of cancer
A Californian interior designer has been found guilty of killing her former stepfather after she found her naked photos being used as a screensaver.
Jade Janks, 39, faces life in prison after the jury in Vista took less than a day to find her guilty of killing Thomas Merriman, 64, on New Year’s Eve in 2020.
She told most friends he had died from cancer, but in text messages to others confessed to killing him with an overdose of pills.
‘This was no accident,’ said Jorge Del Portillo, Deputy District Attorney, in the North County Superior Court.
‘This was murder by design.’
Jade Janks is seen in court during her murder trial. On Wednesday she was convicted
Merriman owned a butterfly farm in Encinitas. He was killed on December 31, 2020
Janks, a successful interior designer, insisted in court that Merriman died from an overdose – but to some friends admitted she killed him. To others she said he had cancer
Merriman, a butterfly park owner who was divorced from Janks’ mother but to whom the family remained close, was in hospital following a fall.
Janks went to his home to clean it, and nudged his computer, finding her naked photo as a screensaver.
The photos had been taken over a decade ago by a former boyfriend, and it is unclear how Merriman, who struggled with alcohol abuse and addictions, came to possess them.
Janks’ mother divorced Merriman in 2008 after 13 years, and multiple instances of domestic abuse.
Del Portillo said that Janks was ‘beyond freaked out’ for find the photos, and immediately began plotting how to kill him.
Janks insisted in court that he died of natural causes.
Her attorney, Marc Carlos, said Merriman, the co-founder of a popular butterfly farm in Encinitas, died due to ill health and his own cocktail of sleeping pills.
His body was found under a pile of trash outside of his home on January 2. Toxicologists found an overdose of drugs in his system, but no evidence of strangulation – although prosecutors claimed Janks strangled him.
Jade Janks, who operated an interior design business in San Diego, allegedly drugged, suffocated and strangled her stepdad after discovering he was in possession of nude photos of her
Thomas Merriman, pictured here, was recovering from injuries sustained after a fall when he died
Carlos added: ‘Jade Janks loved her stepfather. Tom Merriman loved Jade Janks.
‘Unfortunately, Tom Merriman was a troubled individual, and he loved her in different ways.’
Merriman’s body was found under trash bags by police outside of his home in Solano Beach. Officers had gone to the home to conduct a welfare check.
Prosecutors say that Janks told others that she killed Merriman.
A former friend of Janks’, Sarah Jacobs, testified that Janks told her about the photo but said that didn’t indicate that Merriman would face any repercussions.
Jacobs described the photo as showing Janks ‘scantily clad.’
The prosecutor said that the discovery of the nude pics left Janks ‘distraught’ and ‘disturbed to the core
A few days before he was released from the hospital, Janks was cleaning in Merriman’s apartment when she bumped into his computer, waking it. That’s when she saw a nude photo that she had taken years previously as his screensaver
In court this week, prosecutors showed messages that Janks sent to friends, one read: ‘I just dosed the hell out of him. Stopping for whiskey at Dixieland to stall. LMK’
This week, prosecutors showed text messages in court that Janks sent to various friends.
They read: ‘I just dosed the hell out of him. Stopping for whiskey at Dixieland to stall. LMK.’
‘He’s waking up. I really don’t want to be the one to do this.’
‘I can’t carry him alone and I can’t keep a kicking body in my trunk.’
‘I am about to club him on the head as he is waking up.’
‘I’m not strong enough. He is very aware now and I am on my own.’
Janks’ lawyers say that the pictures were taken consensually with a boyfriend years previously. It’s not clear how Merriman obtained the photos
Her lawyer conceded that Siplyak and Janks have cuddled and kissed in the past but have not had a sexual relationship
A friend who did answer her call for help, Adam Siplyak, went to the home on New Year’s Eve but said he would not help her to get rid of the body.
The following day, he went to the police to report what happened.
Janks originally told him that she needed help getting Merriman home because he was high on pills.
However, when Siplyak showed up, she confessed what happened.
The lead detective in the case, Lisa Brannan said in court: ‘Ms. Janks told Mr. Siplyak that she killed her stepfather and she said, ‘I suffocated him with a bag and I choked him.’ She also said that she gave him a bunch of drugs.’
The detective continued: ‘She wanted his help with getting the body out of her car.
‘She wanted to take her stepfather to his home and put him in his bed.
‘She wanted to look like he had overdosed in his bed as he had died in his bed.’
After refusing to help her, Siplyak said: ‘I have a son to raise.’
The arresting officer later testified, San Diego Sheriff’s Office Matthew Gibson, he said that Janks was calm when she was arrested.
The arresting officer later testified, San Diego Sheriff’s Office Matthew Gibson, he said that Janks was calm when she was arrested
Toxicologist Raymond Gary was next to testify, he said that Merriman had high levels of the sleeping drug zolpidem in his system
Janks was free on a $1 million bail albeit with a GPS anklet.
At the time her bail was set, prosecutors argued that the suspect has the financial resources to flee and connections in South Africa.
Janks’ biological father, Steve Janks, is a native of South Africa and now lives in Southern California.
She owner of a start-up interior design business, Jank Janks Interiors.
On the website for the company, she writes: ‘Your home is a reflection of you and Jade will help you express your personal style through a process easy and fun!’
A bio also says: ‘You can count on Jade to hold your hand and make your project a fun one!’
Janks said she got her start in interior design through working for her dad’s kitchen design company.
Janks, shown here with her mother, Jeni, was freed earlier this year on a $1 million bail
A memorial set up to Thomas Merriman at the butterfly farm that he set up in 2013 with a friend
Merriman and Janks’ mother Jeni married in July 1995. The couple had a son together, Cash.
The victim had another daughter from a previous relationship.
Online records show that there were multiple instances of domestic abuse in the marriage between 2002 and 2008.
The couple filed for divorce on multiple occasions during that time, finally doing so in 2008.
Merriman founded the Butterfly Farm, a nonprofit, in 2013 alongside his friend Pat Flanagan.
He told NBC San Diego in January: ‘Tom was just an all-around good guy. He loved being outdoors. He was very handy. He cared and he really gave a lot to the community.’