Courtroom gavel
A courtroom gavel. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A Solana Beach woman charged with murdering her stepfather because she found nude photographs of herself on his computer was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder.

Jade Sasha Janks, 39, was found guilty after about a day of jury deliberations of killing 64-year-old Thomas Merriman, co-founder of Butterfly Farms in Encinitas. Janks faces 25 years to life in state prison when she is sentenced, which is currently set for an April 3 hearing.

Prosecutors say Janks killed Merriman on Dec. 31, 2020, by a combination of strangulation, suffocation and lethal doses of prescription pills. Police discovered his body underneath a pile of trash in his driveway on Jan. 2.

Janks’ defense attorney, Marc Carlos, told jurors Merriman’s death stemmed from a history of substance abuse and overall poor health. The cause of death identified by the medical examiner was acute zolpidem (otherwise known as Ambien) intoxication.

Janks testified that Merriman was heavily intoxicated following his discharge earlier that day from a medical facility. Unable to move him into her home on her own, she left him in her vehicle to sleep it off, then found him dead the next morning, she testified.

According to prosecutors, Janks’ discovery of the nude photographs — which were taken years earlier consensually with her then-boyfriend — prompted her to hatch a plan to kill Merriman with the assistance of several other people. She asked one of those people to strangle Merriman and told another she had done it herself, according to prosecutors, who said she planned to stage Merriman’s death as an accidental overdose.

Janks was accused of enlisting the help of a man prosecutors identified as a “fixer” to help kill Merriman. Janks testified she understood that the man worked in security and wanted his protection while she confronted Merriman about the pictures.

After picking up Merriman from a medical facility on Dec. 31, Janks was accused of texting the fixer, “I just dosed the hell out of him” before stopping at a shopping center to buy items prosecutors allege were used to kill Merriman.

When the fixer was unable to come out to Solana Beach that day to assist in the murder, prosecutors alleged he sent a friend of his.

When that friend arrived, Janks was accused of telling the man, “I want you to strangle him and then bring him into the house. I’ll take care of the rest.” The man did not want to get involved and left, Deputy District Attorney Jorge Del Portillo told jurors.

Prosecutors allege Janks next contacted a friend of hers. After he arrived, Janks allegedly told him that she had killed Merriman and wanted help moving the body. Prosecutors say he also left, then called police the next day.

Janks testified that without anyone’s help to move her intoxicated stepfather out of her car, she left him alone and asleep in the vehicle, which had happened numerous times in the past when he was intoxicated.

On the morning of Jan. 1, she said she moved the car to Merriman’s house, then realized he was dead after he was cold to the touch.

When asked why she didn’t call 911 at that point, Janks testified that she was scared that she would be blamed for killing Merriman. In a panic, she tried to move him into a wheelchair to take him inside but his body fell onto the driveway, she testified.

Not wanting a neighbor to see, she said she piled empty boxes and other debris on top of Merriman to keep him concealed until she could figure out what to do.

Janks was pulled over by a police officer later that day and texted the fixer, “Lose my number. I’m getting pulled over.” Janks testified she wrote that text because she did not want the man to be suspected by the police.

Following the verdict, Merriman’s brother, Terence, read a statement to reporters, in which he said, “More than one family has lost loved ones in this tragedy. We are deeply saddened at the loss of Thomas John Merriman. He was taken too soon from Earth and us. Tom was a great father, son, brother, and friend. We want him to be remembered for his compassionate, kind, generous, caring, and selfless nature. We will do our best to remember him for his genius talent to grow and nurture living things. Please smile when you think of Tom. He would want that.”

–City News Service



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Ellen Bullock