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California Interior Designer Accused Of Killing Former Stepfather After Discovering Nude Photos Of Herself On His Computer

Prosecutors have alleged that Jade Janks killed her former stepfather, Thomas Merriman, after stumbling on nude photos of herself on his computer while cleaning his apartment.

By Jill Sederstrom
Killer Motive: What Drives People To Kill?

Trial began last week for a California interior designer accused of drugging and strangling her former stepfather after she discovered nude photos of herself on his computer.

Jade Sasha Janks, 39, is facing murder charges in the death of 64-year-old Thomas Merriman, who was discovered dead under a pile of trash in a driveway near his home on January 2, 2021, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

During opening statements of the trial, which began Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney Jorge Del Portillo alleged that Janks killed Merriman — who had once been married to her mother — after she discovered nude images of herself on his computer while she was cleaning his apartment and was “beyond freaked out.”

“This was no accident,” he said. “This was murder by design.”

A medical examiner would later determine the 64-year-old died from acute intoxication by Ambien, according to The Coast News Group.

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Merriman, who had had an earlier fall, was recuperating at a care facility when prosecutors said Janks was cleaning up the apartment and knocked into his computer, discovering that the screensaver on the computer was a nude photo of herself.

When she dug deeper into the computer, prosecutors said she discovered other nude images of herself that she had taken more than a decade earlier with a boyfriend.

Prosecutors told the jury that after discovering the images, Janks hatched a plan to kill her stepfather by trying to make it look like an overdose. To support the theory, Portillo showed the jury a series of text messages Janks had allegedly sent to other people seemingly referencing the plot.

In one message, she allegedly wrote, “I just dozed the hell out of him,” and in another after he started waking up, she wrote, “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,” she texted in another, according to prosecutors.

One of the people Janks is accused of confiding in is friend Adam Siplyak, who took the stand Thursday to recount a conversation he said he had with Janks on New Year’s Eve of 2020, The Coast News Group reports.

Siplyak testified that Janks admitted to killing Merriman and told him she had her stepfather’s body in her car. She allegedly asked Siplyak to help her move the body into Merriman’s apartment, in an attempt to make it look like an accidental overdose, but he refused to help.

“She said, ‘I killed him, and he’s in the back of my (Toyota) 4Runner,'” Siplyak testified. “I said, ‘I can’t help you…no way, I’m out of here. I have a son to raise.’”

Siplyak’s friend Justin Hoffman also took the stand to confirm that Siplyak had come to his home later that night and recounted what happened at Janks home.

Homicide detective Lisa Brannan previously testified during a preliminary hearing in February that she had spoken with Siplyak as part of the investigation into the death. According to her account, Siplyak told investigators that Janks had allegedly admitted to suffocating her stepfather and choking him after giving him the drugs, NBC San Diego KNSD reports.

“She wanted to take her stepfather to his home and put him in his bed,” Brannan alleged at the time. “She wanted to look like he had overdosed in his bed as he had died in his bed.”

In court last week, Janks’ attorney Marc Carlos argued that Janks had loved her former stepfather and served as his caretaker before his death.

“Jade Janks loved her stepfather,” he said, according to The Coast News Group. “Tom Merriman loved Jade Janks. Unfortunately, Tom Merriman was a troubled individual, and he loved her in different ways.”

He argued that Merriman had been an alcoholic who abused pills before his death, including sleeping pills, and suggested that the 64-year-old had taken the fatal dose on his own, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.