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California Woman Convicted of Murdering Former Stepfather for Secretly Hoarding Nude Photos of Her

Jade Janks

Jade Janks after hearing the guilty verdict

A California woman accused of killing her former stepfather on New Year’s Eve and hiding his body under a pile of boxes in her driveway has been convicted of first-degree murder.

Jade Janks, 39, testified that she had been panicking when she left her former stepfather Thomas Merriman, 64, under a pile of trash in their shared driveway, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. She had left him sleeping in her SUV on Dec. 31, 2020, because he was intoxicated after drinking whiskey and was too heavy to move, she said. He was dead when she returned on New Year’s Day 2021 to check on him.

Jurors apparently did not buy the story, convicting her on Wednesday of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors said that Janks drugged her former stepfather and strangled him to death for stealing and possessing nude images of her. As previously reported, Janks’ mother and Merriman had filed for divorce three times: in 2002, 2006, and 2008. Janks and Merriman remained in contact after the final break up, however, even living next door to each other and sharing the same driveway in Solana Beach.

When Merriman ended up in a medical facility in December 2020, Janks cared for him. That was how she wound up cleaning his apartment. She said that when she bumped into his computer, a nude photo appeared as the screensaver.

She testified that she recognized the image in that picture: it was her.

Janks then discovered hundreds of pictures on her former stepfather’s computer, she said. Some dated back to when she was in her late teens, and included pictures she voluntarily took with an ex-boyfriend, she testified. Her guess was that Merriman stole the pictures from her laptop and from a missing digital camera.

That was motive for the murder, prosecutors said. She killed him and texted around for help, authorities said.

“I can’t carry him alone and I can’t keep a kicking body in my trunk,” she wrote in one of dozens of texts, authorities said.

“I am about to club him on the head as he is waking up,” she also allegedly wrote.

Janks’ story is that she took Merriman home on Dec. 31, 2020 from the medical facility where he had been receiving treatment, but he became intoxicated after drinking whiskey during the ride. He fell twice upon their arrival home. Since he was too heavy and intoxicated for her to move by herself, Janks said, she got help from a friend and brought him into her SUV. The plan was to return Merriman to the rehab facility, but the staff refused to open their doors on account of the pandemic, she testified. Ultimately, she said she decided to let him sleep it off in her car, but discovered the next day that he was dead.

The defense argued that Merriman long abused substances, and died from bad health and a self-imbibed “cocktail” of pills.

“I wasn’t planning to leave him there,” she testified regarding putting his body in the driveway under the boxes, according to The Coast News Group. “I didn’t really know what to do. I wasn’t trying to dump his body.”

Janks is scheduled for a sentencing hearing to take place April 3, 2023. She faces 25 years to life in prison.

[Screenshot via KFMB]

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