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The trial of a North County designer accused of murdering his stepfather begins

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VISTA, CA – A Solana Beach interior designer killed her father by drugging and strangling her, a prosecutor said Wednesday, while a defense attorney said the victim’s drug use and declining health were the real causes of his death.

Opening statements were made Wednesday in the trial of Jade Sasha Janks, 39, charged with the murder of Thomas Merriman, 64, the founder and president of the Encinitas nonprofit Butterfly Farmers.

Prosecutors said Janks killed Merriman on Dec. 31, 2020, by strangulation, suffocation and lethal doses of prescription pills in an attempt to make it appear he took them intentionally.

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Deputy District Attorney Jorge Del Portillo told jurors that while Merriman was in the hospital in the fall in December, Janks was cleaning his bedroom and accidentally found illegal photos on his computer, which left him “shocked.” ” and “horrified to the core.”

The prosecutor said the discovery spurred Janks into a plan to kill Merriman, which involved efforts to find more people to help. Del Portillo said she confessed to killing Merriman to two of those people.

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Janks’ defense attorney, Marc Carlos, said there was no evidence that Merriman’s death was caused by anything other than his documented drug use and a laundry list of medical issues. Carlos pointed to the cause of death identified by the medical examiner: acute zolpidem (otherwise known as Ambien) intoxication. The attorney said Merriman developed a drug addiction to deal with chronic pain and insomnia.

He also said that Janks had no reason to kill Merriman, whom she constantly cared for and called her father.

“Jade Janks loved her father,” Carlos said. “Tom Merriman loved Jade Janks, unfortunately, Tom Merriman was a complicated individual, and he loved her in different ways.”

Carlos said Janks was so upset after finding the pictures on Merriman’s computer that she destroyed the hard drive they were on. Knowing that Merriman would soon be released from the hospital, Carlos said his client was afraid of what might happen when Merriman found out she had seen the photos.

“Tom will know she found out something he didn’t like,” Carlos said.

Del Portillo told jurors that Janks immediately sought the help of a “mentor” to help her with her father’s murder. The day Merriman was leaving the hospital, Janks picked her up and then texted her “guide” throughout the day, prosecutors said.

“I just beat the hell out of him,” she allegedly texted before stopping at a shopping center to buy items Del Portillo allegedly used in Merriman’s murder.

The prosecutor said she repeatedly contacted rescue for help, but the man never made it to Solana Beach.

She allegedly drove Merriman home, where he collapsed in the driveway because he was too high on the drugs she had given him, prosecutors alleged.

A neighbor noticed that Merriman seemed unwell and Janks kept a note of that meeting, which Del Portillo alleged was an effort to make sure her story was straight.

“He’s waking up. I really don’t want to be the one to do this,” she allegedly texted the operator, who arranged for a friend to come over.

When the friend arrived, Janks allegedly told the man, “I want you to strangle him and bring him into the house. I’ll take care of the rest,” the prosecutor said.

The man didn’t want to get involved and left, Del Portillo said.

One of Janks’s friends came calling later that night. Before he agreed to come, she asked if he was coming alone, Del Portillo said.

When he arrived, she reportedly told him she had killed Merriman and needed a friend’s help to move the body. Del Portillo said he did not help Janks, and called the police the next morning.

Janks was pulled over by an officer later that day and allegedly texted the operator, “lost my number. I’m getting pulled over.”

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