Home Scandal and Gossip Interior designer accused of killing Solana Beach stepdad over secret nude screensaver

Interior designer accused of killing Solana Beach stepdad over secret nude screensaver

Jade Janks found guilty of murder
Jade Janks found guilty of murdering stepdad
Jade Janks murder trial: San Diego interior designer accused of murdering stepfather
Jade Janks murder trial: Did a San Diego interior designer kill her stepfather, Paul Merriman after finding a secret nude image of her as his computer screensaver? The suspect pictured as she appeared at Vista Superior Court last week.

Jade Janks murder trial: Did a San Diego interior designer murder her Solana Beach stepfather, Paul Merriman upon finding him using a stolen nude image of her as a screensaver? 

A San Diego interior designer is on trial for murdering her former stepfather after catching him using a stolen nude photo of her as his screensaver on his computer.

Jade Janks, 39, is accused of drugging, suffocating and strangling Thomas Merriman, 64, in San Diego on New Year’s Eve 2020. She denies murder.

Merriman’s body was found under a pile of trash at the Solana Beach, California, home whom he shared with his stepdaughter, prosecutors told a Vista Superior Court earlier this week.

The interior designer, who had also co-founded research nonprofit Butterly Farms, was described as being ‘beyond freaked out’ after she found multiple naked images of herself in Merriman’s home, including an image of herself which the stepfather was using as a computer screensaver. 

Records show that Janks’ mother divorced Merriman in 2008 after multiple instances of domestic abuse, although Janks and Merriman maintained a relationship. 

Interior designer found guilty of murdering stepdad after he stole 100 nude pics

Murder by design? 

Told Deputy District Attorney Jorge Del Portillo: ‘This was no accident. This was murder by design.’ Prosecutors alleged that Janks suffocated Merriman with a plastic bag.

However, Janks’ attorney, Marc Carlos, says that Merriman, the co-founder of a popular butterfly farm in Encinitas, died due to ill health and his own cocktail of sleeping pills. 

She has pleaded not guilty to murder. If convicted, Janks could face life in prison.

Carlos said: ‘The medical examiner will not tell you it was strangulation. The science does not support strangulation.’ The official cause of death was acute intoxication, reports the San Diego Union Tribune. 

Accidental death? 

‘You will not find any evidence that he was strangled to death,’ Carlos told the jury.

The attorney went on to accuse Merriman of being an alcoholic who was addicted to pills

Carlos also said: ‘Jade Janks loved her stepfather. Tom Merriman loved Jade Janks. Unfortunately, Tom Merriman was a troubled individual, and he loved her in different ways.’  

Merriman’s body was found under trash bags by police outside of his home in Solano Beach on New Years Day. Officers had gone to the home to conduct a welfare check. 

Jade Janks murder trial: San Diego interior designer accused of murdering stepfather
Jade Janks murder trial: Pictured San Diego interior designer accused of killing her stepfather, Paul Merriman.

Motivated to kill? 

Prosecutors say that Janks told others that she killed Merriman. Despite the fact that her mother had long since divorced Merriman, the pair were still close.

Merriman was returning home on New Year’s Eve after he was hospitalized due to a fall. Janks had picked him from a care facility. Her lawyer said that when he left the facility, he was given a supply of various pills. 

A few days earlier, Janks was cleaning in Merriman’s apartment when she bumped into his computer, waking it. That’s when she saw a nude photo that she had taken years previously as his screensaver.

The prosecutor said that the discovery of the pics left her ‘distraught’ and ‘disturbed to the core.’ 

A former friend of Janks’, Sarah Jacobs, testified that the suspect told her about the photo but said that didn’t indicate that Merriman would face any repercussions. Jacobs described the photo as showing Janks ‘scantily clad.’

Her lawyers say that the pictures were taken consensually with a boyfriend years previously. It’s not clear how Merriman obtained the photos. 

Paul Merriman Solana Beach murder
Pictured, Jade Janks, San Diego interior designer accused of poisoning and strangling her stepfather, Paul Merriman.

Incriminating texts

From there, prosecutors allege, an incensed Janks hatched a plot to kill her stepdad. 

Prosecutors showed text messages in court that Janks sent to various friends. 

They read according to NBC San Diego: ‘I just dosed the hell out of him. Stopping for whiskey at Dixieland to stall. LMK.’

‘He’s waking up. I really don’t want to be the one to do this.’

‘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.’ 

‘I’m not strong enough. He is very aware now and I am on my own.’

According to the Union Tribune, the prosecutor called one of those contacted a ‘fixer-of-sorts.’ 

A friend who did answer her call for help, Adam Siplyak, went to the home on New Year’s Eve but said he would not help her to get rid of the body. The following day, he went to the police to report what happened. 

Jade Janks murder trial: San Diego interior designer accused of murdering stepfather
Jade Janks murder trial: Did a San Diego interior designer kill her stepfather, Paul Merriman?

Defendant accused of seeking help disposing body

Janks originally told him that she needed help getting Merriman home because he was high on pills. However, when Siplyak showed up, she confessed what happened. 

The lead detective in the case, Lisa Brannan said in court this week: ‘Ms. Janks told Mr. Siplyak that she killed her stepfather and she said, ‘I suffocated him with a bag and I choked him.” She also said that she gave him a bunch of drugs.’

The detective continued: ‘She wanted his help with getting the body out of her car. She wanted to take her stepfather to his home and put him in his bed. She wanted to look like he had overdosed in his bed as he had died in his bed.’

After refusing to help her, Siplyak said: ‘I have a son to raise.’ 

The pair then had a cigarette and kissed before he left. The suspect’s lawyer said that Siplyak is a recovering drug addict who has a crush on Janks. 

The lawyer conceded that the pair had cuddled and kissed in the past but have not had a sexual relationship. 

The arresting officer, San Diego Sheriff’s Office Matthew Gibson, later testified that Janks was calm when she was arrested.

Toxicologist Raymond Gary was next to testify, he said that Merriman had high levels of the sleeping drug zolpidem in his system. 

Since her arrest, Janks has been free on a $1 million bail albeit with a GPS anklet. At the time her bail was set, prosecutors argued that the suspect has the financial resources to flee and connections in South Africa. 

San Diego interior designer accused of killing stepdad over nude screensaver image
Pictured, Jade Janks San Diego interior designer accused of murdering Solana Beach stepfather.

Prior domestic abuse and strange coincidences

Janks’ biological father, Steve Janks, is a native of South Africa and now lives in Southern California.  

Reads a description of Jank Janks Interiors on the company website: ‘Your home is a reflection of you and Jade will help you express your personal style through a process easy and fun!’ 

A bio also says: ‘You can count on Jade to hold your hand and make your project a fun one!’ Janks also says that she got her start in interior design through working for her dad’s kitchen design company. 

Merriman and Janks’ mother Jeni married in July 1995. The couple had a son together, Cash. Merriman had another daughter from a previous relationship. 

Online records show that there were multiple instances of domestic abuse in the marriage between 2002 and 2008. The couple filed for divorce on multiple occasions during that time, finally doing so in 2008. 

Merriman founded the Butterfly Farm, a nonprofit, in 2013 alongside his friend Pat Flanagan. He told NBC San Diego in January: ‘Tom was just an all-around good guy. He loved being outdoors. He was very handy. He cared and he really gave a lot to the community.’

Of intrigue, in 2019 a Butterfly Farm employee, Sabrina Lukosky, was murdered by her boyfriend, Henry Simon Cowen, in their home. Cowen was sentenced to life in prison for the crime in November 2021. 

Flanagan told ABC San Diego  in 2021: ‘The irony is not lost here. Somebody came in and did a donation toward Sabrina, ironically, on Friday which is the same day apparently Tom’s body was found.’