Disbarred Smyrna lawyer Richard Merritt, who spent eight months evading capture as a wanted criminal, will spend the rest of his life in prison for beating and stabbing his mother to death.
Merritt was convicted Wednesday of killing 77-year-old Shirley Merritt in her DeKalb County home in 2019.
Merritt was found guilty by a DeKalb County jury of murder, aggravated assault and possessing a weapon during the commission of a crime, according to court documents. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus five years.
Merritt’s brother, Robert Merritt, told the MDJ Thursday his family welcomed the verdict.
“On behalf of my entire family, I can say we are very pleased with the outcome,” Robert Merritt said. “We do feel that the verdict is just, and we feel that the punishment was appropriate for his actions.”
Addressing Richard Merritt’s claim on the stand that two armed men broke into his mother’s residence and killed her, Robert Merritt said his family saw that explanation as “preposterous and absurd.”
“We were saddened at his comments during his sentencing … that he didn’t mention my mother even once,” Robert Merritt added.
In 2019, Richard Merritt was due to spend 15 years behind bars for stealing hundreds of thousands in settlement money from his clients — clients who, on the stand, called him a “con man” and a “mendacious scoundrel.”
The attorney pleaded guilty to 34 criminal charges, begging then-Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert Flournoy for time to get his affairs in order.
Flournoy acquiesced. But on the agreed-upon date when he was to report to jail — Feb. 1, 2019 — Merritt was nowhere to be found.
Within the hour, however, the district attorney’s office determined Merritt had cut off his ankle monitor. He had become a fugitive from the law.
“It was somewhat surreal,” said Flournoy, now a semi-retired senior judge with the Cobb Superior Court. “I had no idea that he would not turn himself in, and there was no indication that he would kill his mother.”
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Nobody in the court thought Merritt would commit a violent act, Flournoy added. Merritt’s actions made even less sense considering his mother was supporting him throughout the trial.
“The only person that was sitting on his side of the courtroom was his mother,” Flournoy said. “She was the one that paid his bond and hired his lawyer … for something like that to happen is so crazy.”
In his judicial career spanning more than 22 years, Flournoy said Merritt was the only defendant who failed to report to the Cobb jail to begin serving their sentence.
In response to Merritt’s actions, all judges in the county adopted the position that nobody would ever be allowed to surrender at a later date again, Flournoy said.
“If somebody is going into custody, they are to be taken into custody at the time of the plea,” Flournoy said.
The day after he failed to appear at the jail, Shirley Merritt was found dead in her Stone Mountain home. Police said she’d been beaten with a dumbbell and stabbed multiple times. Richard Merritt’s car was in the driveway; Shirley Merritt’s Lexus was gone.
Merritt proceeded to lead authorities on an eight-month nationwide manhunt before being captured by the U.S. Marshals Service in Nashville, the MDJ previously reported.
His murder trial was delayed nearly a year and began last week in the courtroom of DeKalb Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson.
MDJ news partner Fox 5 reported the jury took just over an hour to find Merritt guilty after a four-day trial.
Robert Merritt is relieved it’s finally over, noting the trial was postponed twice. While his mother is gone, her memory lives on.
“I feel as though a burden has been lifted off of myself and the family as a whole,” Robert Merritt said. “I hope we can move on from this without forgetting the good memories of my mother.”
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