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Jade Janks, 49, of Solana Beach, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years on Monday for the first-degree murder of her former stepfather Thomas Merriman. Photo by Laura Place
Jade Janks, 49, of Solana Beach, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years on Monday for the first-degree murder of her former stepfather Thomas Merriman. Photo by Laura Place
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Janks gets life sentence for former stepfather’s murder

VISTA — Jade Janks of Solana Beach was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years on Monday for the 2020 murder of Thomas Merriman, her former stepfather and founder of the Butterfly Farms in Encinitas.

Judge Robert J. Kearney handed down the sentence at the Vista courthouse after hearing statements from Janks, 39, and impact statements from friends and family of both Janks and Merriman, who was 64 when he was killed.

Three of Merriman’s brothers and three friends, including Butterfly Farms co-founder Pat Flanagan, pleaded with the judge to hand down the maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

“We respectfully ask you to help us deliver justice and do what is good and right for Tom,” Merriman’s older brother Tim wrote. “There should be no leniency for the convicted’s selfish, planned and brutal act. We ask for the maximum sentence that the law provides.”

Janks was convicted of first-degree murder for the killing of Merriman following a 10-day trial in December.

Prosecutors Teresa Pham and Jorge Del Portillo argued that the Solana Beach interior designer drugged and strangled her former stepfather after picking him up from the hospital on New Year’s Eve of 2020 and hid his body under a pile of boxes and trash in his driveway, which was discovered the next day by detectives.

Judge Robert J. Kearney handed Jade Janks a life sentence without the possibility of parole until 2048. Photo by Laura Place
Judge Robert J. Kearney handed Jade Janks a life sentence without the possibility of parole until 2048 this week at the Vista courthouse. Photo by Laura Place

Janks and her defense attorney, Marc Carlos, argued that she was traumatized after discovering explicit photos of herself on Merriman’s computer but did not murder him. On the stand back in December, Janks said she found his body in her car after an apparent overdose and hid his body in the driveway out of panic.

At the sentencing hearing, Carlos also claimed that Janks had suffered from trauma and sexual abuse at an early age, something that was not brought forward at trial.

“She has maintained her innocence throughout this matter and will continue to do so,” Carlos said. “She panicked under this reaction to the trauma that she had, and as a result, she did things that made her appear to be complicit in the death of Mr. Merriman.”

Janks also spoke briefly at her sentencing.

“I’m sorry I didn’t act the way I was supposed to that day,” she said. “To Tom’s family, I understand you hate me … but there’s a lot more you’ll never understand.”

Flanagan said losing his business partner and friend of over a decade was “devastating” and profoundly impacted the Butterfly Farms operation. He said the farm faced negative pushback after allegations about Merriman’s inappropriate behavior in the case were made public and that after being told their rent at the Leichtag Commons would be tripled, the nonprofit’s lease was not renewed in November. However, an exact reason for this decision was not given.

“The business at this point is closed. I’ve laid everyone off; everything is in storage. I’ll have to look seriously at whether I can do the business without Tom,” Flanagan said. “This has been devastating not just to me but to all the people who look to Tom for answers in the work we were doing.”

Flanagan is hoping to move the farm’s operations to Poway.

“I’ve worked vigorously behind the scenes to try to get a lease extension. We have a place to move; it’s just not ready yet, so we were really hoping to get another year in Encinitas,” he said.