A DeKalb Superior Court judge Tuesday sentenced a man to life without parole after he pleaded guilty to murder and other crimes during an armed robbery at a MARTA bus stop in 2014.
Christopher Merritt clearly said “guilty” as prosecutor Anna Cross read the multi-count indictment in connection with the Nov. 23 murder of Marcaysia Dawkins, a Lithonia High School graduate. He also admitted to armed robberies, rapes and sexual assaults in a crime spree dating back to at least January 2013.
“I wish I could change all the things,” Merritt told the court. “I would like to say my heart goes out to the people I harmed and to the families of the people I have harmed.”
He had faced the death penalty. The plea allowed him to escape with his lifetime behind bar, which his lawyer Christian Lamar contended was the right result for a 19-year-old man because of his age at the time of the crime.
“He has to figure out how to live in prison in some way that is beneficial,” Lamar told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are grateful to the District Attorney’s office for allowing us to plead this case out.”
Merritt also pleaded guilty to two rapes, a forced oral sodomy against three women, whom he also robbed, and to two other armed robberies.
He beat his earlier victims and threatened them with death, catching them when they were walking on isolate “cuts” between neighborhoods or leaving their homes, Cross said.
One of the earlier robbery victims, Farah Griffin, told Superior Court Judge Gail Flake of the lasting effects of the crime.
“My life was suddenly changed,” said Griffin, breaking down into tears. “Every time I open the door of my house, I am scared.”
The day of the murder, Dawkins was waiting at a Fairington Road MARTA stop in Lithonia when Merritt attempted to steal her purse. During the struggle, Merritt shot Dawkins twice with a 9mm handgun.
She was headed to the gym that day, her family said, as part of an initiative to get herself in shape so she could join the Navy.
Dawkins’ mother, Charisma Dawkins, recalled the horror of seeing her daughter’s blood on the ground at the MARTA stop on her way to Grady Memorial Hospital where she had hoped to find her child wounded but alive.
“I never expected to hear the words, ‘I’m sorry Mrs. Dawkins but your daughter did not make it” said the mother, who recalled how hard the death was to believe. “This cannot be true, not matter how many times I repeated it. This cannot be real.”
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