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Interior designer from Solana Beach found guilty of killing her ex-stepfather and given a 25-year to life sentence

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    VISTA — 

    A Solana Beach interior designer was sentenced Monday to 25 years to life in prison for killing her former stepfather — who she said had hundreds of nude images of her on his computer — and trying to make it look like an accidental overdose.

    In December, a Vista Superior Court jury deliberated for about a day before finding Jade Sasha Janks, 39, guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Tom Merriman, co-founder of the education and research nonprofit Butterfly Farms, which had a half-acre vivarium in Encinitas.

    Prosecutors had accused her of drugging and strangling Merriman, 64, who died New Year’s Eve 2020, hours after Janks picked him up from a medical care facility where he’d been rehabilitating after a fall. Janks had found the nude photos about a week before picking him up, a find the prosecutor said left her “beyond freaked out.”

    Deputy District Attorney Jorge Del Portillo argued during the trial that Janks plotted to kill Merriman, giving him pain pills, sleeping pills and alcohol.

    Her defense lawyer, Marc Carlos, told the jury that Merriman abused alcohol and prescription drugs, and died from a combination of poor health and “his own cocktail” of pills. The county Medical Examiner’s Office determined his cause of death was an overdose of prescription sleeping pills.

    Janks testified that Merriman overdosed on his own. Her attorney said she maintains she is innocent.

    Before handing down the sentence Monday morning, Judge Robert Kearney said he believes that the evidence supported the jury’s conclusion.

    Two of victim’s brothers spoke during the hearing and asked that she receive a long sentence.

    “May Jade Janks find no peace in confinement, no rest in her hours, no false promise of forgiveness,” said Patrick Merriman, the victim’s younger brother. “It is because of her soulless actions that we must endure Tom’s absence forever.”

    Tom Merriman

    (Photos from U-T Staff)

    Terence Merriman said his brother “didn’t deserve to die by the torture the killer put him through.”

    “The killer’s denial in the face of insurmountable evidence against her hurts me,” he said. “She’s a liar and we all know it.”

    In court Monday, Janks said Merriman had come into her life when she was young, and that his influence “manifested itself into inappropriate touch, coercion, reckless behavior, and complete violation — what I now realize is years of psychological manipulation.”

    She said she was “shattered” when she found the nude photos of herself on his computer, including one she said her stepfather used as a screen saver. Janks said the photos were more than a decade old. Merriman was not the photographer. Janks surmised he’d apparently stolen the photos from her computer or her missing digital camera.

    “I’m sorry I didn’t act the way I was supposed to that day,” Janks said. “I think about it everyday since. And to Tom’s family, I understand you hate me for what you believe I did to Tom, however there is a lot more than you will ever understand.”

    At her trial, Janks told the jury she was cleaning Merriman’s apartment in late December 2020 when she found the photos on his computer. The two were neighbors, and shared a driveway on South Nardo Avenue in Solana Beach.

    Merriman was long divorced from Janks’ mother, but Janks still helped him out.

    Janks said she bumped his computer, waking it, and then saw her nude photo as the screensaver. She searched the computer and found several more images.

    “It was the most violating, awful, gut-punching feeling ever,” she testified last year. “I felt sick.”

    On Dec. 31, 2020, a little more than a week after her discovery, she picked up Merriman from the facility. She testified the plan was to confront him and force him to move.

    Del Portillo said her plan was to kill Merriman.

    The prosecutor showed the jury dozens of texts Janks sent in the hours after she picked Merriman. Del Portillo said some of the texts were sent to a “fixer” she thought was going help her. When he was a no show, she texted friends in a panic, asking for help.

    Among the texts the jury saw:
    “I just dosed the hell out of him.”
    “He’s waking up. I really don’t want to be the one to do this.”
    “It’s going to be “Weekend at Bernie’s.”
    “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.”

    Janks said the texts were not what the prosecution implied. Rather, she said, Merriman was unable to walk and she needed help getting him out of her car and into his home.

    Janks said she was unable to find help so she decided to leave him in her SUV. She said he previously had slept off drunken episodes there before.

    She said she found Merriman dead the next morning, Jan. 1, 2021. She said she tried to move him to his home on her own, but he fell onto the driveway. She covered him with blankets and empty boxes.

    One person who Janks implored for help Dec. 31, 2020 did come by, but grew uneasy and left. The next day, he called the Sheriff’s Department to file a report. He told them Janks said she had drugged and tried to suffocated him and strangle him, and needed help moving Merriman to his bed.

    Deputies detained Janks and started searching for Merriman. Hours later, early on Jan. 2, they found his body underneath the boxes.


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