The U.S. Marshals Service has joined the search for a disbarred lawyer wanted in connection with the stabbing death of his mother.
Richard Merritt, 44, was scheduled to report to custody Feb. 1 after pleading guilty to theft and elder abuse in Cobb County, but he disappeared after allegedly removing his ankle monitor, according to authorities.
The search ramped up Feb. 2 when his mother, Shirley Merritt, was found dead in what DeKalb police said appears to be an isolated, domestic-related incident. Her son is the primary suspect, police spokesman J.D. Spencer said.
U.S. marshals released on Saturday a surveillance photo of Merritt at a gas station in metro Atlanta shortly after he allegedly removed his ankle monitor. The location of the gas station where he was apparently spotted was not provided.
The agency is also offering a $5,000 reward for any information that leads to his capture.
Merritt’s lawyer, Marietta-based David Willingham, said in a statement to Channel 2 Action News that his prayers go out to the man’s family.
“I am devastated by these recent tragic events ... Not once did he hint or suggest in any way that he would run from justice, much less show any signs that he was capable of such heinous violence towards of all people, his own mother,” Willingham said. “I simply cannot believe this has happened.”
In February of last year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Merritt was disbarred and jailed after he admitted to stealing $75,000 from a client’s settlement in February 2017.
He pleaded guilty three weeks ago in Cobb County court for settling civil lawsuits without telling his clients and keeping the money for himself, according to prosecutors. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and 15 on probation and ordered to pay $454,706 in restitution.
Merritt asked for some time to get his affairs in order, and a Cobb County judge agreed. He was ordered to return to custody by 5 p.m. Feb. 1, the day before officers found Shirley Merritt dead inside her Planters Row home near Stone Mountain.
When officers responded about 9:30 a.m. that morning, they found Shirley’s vehicle missing, according to U.S. marshals. Richard Merritt’s vehicle was found at the scene.
Merritt may be driving his mother’s vehicle, a 2009 silver Lexus RX350 with Georgia tag CBV6004.
“He may have shaved his head or otherwise changed his appearance, and should be considered armed and dangerous,” a U.S. Marshals Service spokesman said in a release. “Do not try to engage him. If you see Merritt, please contact law enforcement immediately.”
Anyone with information is asked to call DeKalb police at 770-724-7850 or the U.S. Marshals at 1-877-Wanted-2 (1-877-926-8332). Tips can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To remain anonymous and be eligible for rewards of up to $2,000, tipsters can contact Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, text information to 274637 or visit the Crime Stoppers website.
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