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Crime News Family Crimes

Woman Who Killed Stepfather Over Keeping Nude Teen Photos Of Her Gets Life Sentence

Thomas Merriman, 64, was described as a “sick, perverted individual” by Jade Janks’ family.

By Dorian Geiger
Killer Motive: What Drives People To Kill?

A Solana Beach, California woman who was convicted of drugging and strangling her stepfather to death after discovering a trove of nude pictures of herself in his possession was sentenced last week.

Jade Janks, 39, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years on Monday in the 2020 slaying of her 64-year-old stepfather, Thomas Merriman, San Diego television station KNSD reported. A jury found her guilty of first-degree murder in December.

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On Jan. 2, 2021, police found Merriman, who co-founded a non-profit butterfly sanctuary, dead underneath bags of garbage in the driveway of their home. An autopsy revealed that Merriman died from acute intoxication by Ambien, The Coast News Group reported at the time.

According to Janks, who testified on her own behalf at trial, she’d supplied her stepfather with whisky, fatally choked him and cut off his oxygen supply after discovering a series of illicit photographs of her as a teen on his computer while cleaning his home. The photos, which numbered in the hundreds, depicted Janks having consensual sex with a former boyfriend from years earlier. 

During her sentencing, Janks, who at times became emotional, said Merriman was a serial predator.

“Tom came into my life when I was just a little girl and exerted influence during that early stage of development when I was just figuring things out,” Janks said. “Unfortunately that influence manifested itself into inappropriate touch, coercion, reckless behavior, and complete violation as what I now realize years of psychological manipulation. All of this came crashing down on me when I noticed hundreds of naked photos of myself on his computer and felt shattered.” 

Janks also accused the late 64-year-old of having inappropriate contact with her when she was a minor.

“I’m still picking up the pieces and it’s my sincerest hope that over the next few years I can put the pieces back and heal from this trauma,” she added. “I’m sorry I didn’t act the way I was supposed to. I think about it every day since.”

Janks, who remained defiant that she was a victim in the case in her court address, also offered a partial apology to Merriman’s family. 

“I understand you hate me for what you believe I did to Tom,” Janks told the court. “However, there’s a lot more than you will ever understand.”

Janks’ defense team, who also acknowledged her troubled childhood, echoing her claims that she’d been victimized by Merriman as a young girl, insisted she wasn’t guilty of murder. 

“Something happened on this evening and it had a lot to do with her relationship with the victim,” attorney Marc Carlos said. “There is a lot of trauma in Jade Janks’ early life — we have outlined that in our sentencing memorandum to the court. There was some conduct between the victim and Ms. Janks in her teens — early teens. As well as some incidents that occurred after that. And those were the factors that basically went into play on the evening that Mr. Merriman died.”

Janks’ lawyers have vowed to appeal the sentence.

“Ms. Janks reacted in a way that was completely outside the way she would normally act,” her lawyers added. “She had, as the court is aware, she had family members that she could have called; she had lawyers that she could have called; there’s all kinds of people she could have called, however, she panicked under this reaction to the trauma that she had. And, as a result, she did things that made her appear to be complicit in the death of Mr. Merriman.”

In court, Janks' father also referred to Merriman as a “sick, perverted individual,” according to Law&Crime.

Prosecutors, however, had maintained Janks was “beyond freaked out” after discovering the nude photographs on Merriman’s computer, stating that Janks plotted to kill her stepfather by making his death appear as an overdose. They accused Janks of suffocating Merriman using a plastic bag.

Numerous family and loved ones of Merriman spoke up on his behalf at Janks' sentencing as well. Many called for the judge to impose a stiff punishment — and some discounted Janks’ account of the Dec. 31, 2020 killing altogether.

“I don’t believe the negative statements the murderer made about Tom,” one person stated in a victim impact statement. “I don’t believe she murdered him for the reasons she said she did. It’s a killer’s word against his. And he’s not here to defend himself.”

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