A former Cobb County attorney who fled the state after killing his mother in 2019 was convicted Wednesday and sentenced to life in prison.
It took the jury only about 90 minutes to return to the courtroom with a guilty verdict.
Richard Merritt was found guilty of murder, aggravated assault and possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus five years, court documents show. Prosecutors said he fatally stabbed his mother, 77-year-old Shirley Merritt, at her DeKalb County home.
“I just want the court to know what an evil person he is in the eyes of his family,” Mike Jefcoat, a relative of the victim, said after the sentencing. “Everybody in the family has been impacted by this. Everybody has been impacted by the death of Shirley. We miss her still every day.”
The brutal attack occurred Feb. 1, 2019, just before Merritt was scheduled to report to custody after pleading guilty to theft and elder abuse in a separate case in Cobb.
But Merritt disappeared after allegedly removing his ankle monitor, one day before his mother was found dead at her home in the 1500 block of Planters Row in Tucker, DeKalb police said. Merritt had been living with her at the time.
After he fled, he was spotted on surveillance video at a gas station near Cartersville. He became the primary suspect in Shirley Merritt’s death because he took off, officials said at the time.
Credit: U.S. Marshals Service
Credit: U.S. Marshals Service
Months later, Merritt was located in Nashville, Tennessee, and taken into custody. The U.S. Marshals Service said he had changed his appearance, including growing out his hair.
On Tuesday, Merritt took the stand in his own defense. He told the court that two armed men broke into his mother’s home and killed her, Channel 2 Action News reported.
“This monster took this dumbbell and proceeded to bludgeon my mother right in front of me,” Merritt said.
He added that a man forced him downstairs with a pistol to his back and then returned a few minutes later with a kitchen knife and “proceeded to stab my mother repeatedly in front of me,” the news station reported him stating in court.
In 2017, Merritt was disbarred and jailed after he admitted to stealing $75,000 from a client’s settlement in February of that year, according to court documents. He pleaded guilty in January 2019 to settling civil lawsuits without telling his clients and keeping the money for himself. He used the money taken from clients, some elderly or filing medical malpractice claims, to buy a Porsche and go on vacation, investigators said.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, plus 15 years of probation, and ordered to pay restitution of $454,706 in the Cobb case. The judge granted Merritt’s request for time to get his affairs in order, and he was told to return to custody by Feb. 1 — the same day the attack on his mother took place.
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Credit: Jason Getz/AJC