One photo was allegedly part of his screensaver ... before she searched his computer and found even more.
The trial for a 39-year-old woman accused of killing her stepfather after allegedly discovering naked pictures of her on his computer kicked off last week in San Diego County -- where two very different versions of events were laid out by the prosecution and defense.
The body of butterfly farmer Thomas Merriman, 64, was found under a pile of trash in his driveway by deputies responding to a welfare check on January 2, 2021. His stepdaughter, interior designer Jade Janks (pictured), had picked him up the morning of New Year's Eve from a facility where he was recovering from a fall. She was arrested at the scene, charged with murder and pleaded not guilty.
The medical examiner said the cause of death was acute zolpidem intoxication. Zolpidem -- or Ambien -- is a type of sleeping pill.
"This was no accident. This was murder by design," Deputy District Attorney Jorge Del Portillo said in court last Wednesday, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.
The prosecution argued Janks discovered a nude photo of her as Merriman's screensaver in December 2020 after bumping into his computer while cleaning up his apartment. They say she then searched the computer and found even more photos -- which she had reportedly taken consensually with a boyfriend more than 10 years earlier. That discovery, said the DA, left Janks "beyond freaked out," before she allegedly began plotting his murder.
In court, the DA presented as evidence a number of text messages sent from Janks' phone on New Year's Eve, after picking up Merriman from the care facility. Among the texts: "I just dosed the hell out of him," "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" and "I am about to club him on the head as he is waking up."
One of the people she allegedly texted was referred to as a "fixer of sorts" by the prosecution, though that person declined to help her. Another man who was sent messages was the one who called in the welfare check. Authorities discovered Merriman's body as they were leaving the home, under a pile of blankets and boxes.
The man who called police, Adam Siplyak, testified last Thursday that Janks admitted to killing her stepfather, before asking him for assistance moving the body. "She said, 'I killed him, and he's in the back of my [Toyota] 4Runner,'" he claimed (via The Coast News). "I said, 'I can't help you ... no way, I'm out of here. I have a son to raise.'"
Janks' attorney argued last week Merriman died from "his own cocktail" of pills and overall poor health. "The medical examiner will not tell you it was strangulation. The science does not support strangulation," they added, claiming Merriman abused pills and alcohol and left the care facility with a number of prescriptions.
"Jade Janks loved her stepfather," her defense attorney said in court. "Tom Merriman loved Jade Janks. Unfortunately, Tom Merriman was a troubled individual, and he loved her in different ways."
A friend of Janks' also testified, confirming Janks once told her that her stepfather had "scantily clad" photos of her on his screensaver -- but added she never indicated she was planning any sort of retaliation.