A disbarred lawyer on trial for allegedly stabbing his elderly mother with her kitchen knife and beating her with his 35-pound dumbbell on the day he was supposed to turn himself in for a fraud case testified that two mysterious gunmen carried out the murder.
The defendant, Richard Merritt, 49, claimed on Tuesday that Shirley Merritt, 77, was struck first and stabbed when she was clearly not moving.
“I didn’t understand what would be the purpose because she wasn’t moving,” he said. “Why is any of this happening? It was a complete and utter nightmare.”
But prosecutor Helen Pott confronted him for his history of lying, dating back to his fraud case. She pointed out that after the murder, he fled his mother’s home in DeKalb County, Georgia, and lived eight months in Nashville, Tennessee, under an alias, getting a new girlfriend and using the woman for a place to stay.
“I wouldn’t go that far, no,” Merritt said, denying that he used the woman. He asserted he genuinely cared for her.
As defendant Merritt acknowledged during his testimony, he was previously convicted of defrauding clients. Pott noted he represented people injured in car accidents or otherwise had insurance claims. Merritt settled those claims but left his clients in the dark. Instead, he kept the money for his use. Merritt, who testified about living an “idyllic” life with his children and then-wife, said he committed the fraud because his firm was in trouble. Pott noted the average age of the victims was 61.2 years old.
“I wasn’t specifically targeting the elderly,” he asserted.
His spouse filed for divorce four days after his arrest, he said. Meanwhile, his mother took out a second mortgage on her home so he could post bond during the case, and he said he stayed at her home under the terms of release. Ultimately, however, he pleaded guilty, and the judge gave him two weeks before he had to turn himself in.
On Feb. 1, 2019, he was at his mother’s residence. The plan was to eat there at about 1 p.m. and leave by 2:30 p.m. But there was a loud knock at the door, which did not have a peephole, he testified. Defendant Merritt said that he opened it. Two male strangers with pistols pointed their guns at him and told him to let them in, he said.
This incident followed weeks of anonymous, apparent harassment, according to his testimony. Merritt claimed he and his mother received strange phone calls and saw suspicious vehicles pass by at least 20 to 30 times. He told an incredulous Pott that he did not speak to neighbors about that. Neither did he reach out to law enforcement. He was not sure what his mother did, he said. He also asserted someone personally put a cartoon rock in his mother’s mailbox. Stress from this and his legal trouble caused her to have health trouble, he said.
Fugitive lawyer #RichardMerritt said a cartoon rock, which depicted his financial crimes, was sent to his mother’s home in January 2019, a month before his mother, 77-year-old #ShirleyMerritt, was killed. pic.twitter.com/P4KSHYbnWF
— Law&Crime Network (@LawCrimeNetwork) May 23, 2023
He testified that on the day of the murder, the gunmen forced him and his mother down the stairs into the basement. He suggested they had cased out the residence based on their knowledge about the basement.
He described one man as taller, athletically thin, standing about 6 feet tall, and in his 50s. This individual supposedly wore a black thermal long-sleeve top and a pair of Dickies khaki pants. Merritt described the other as “pudgy,” with shoulder-length brown hair, standing probably 5 feet, eight inches to nine inches. This person had a camouflage hoodie and blue jeans.
Merritt claimed his mother was crying, making sounds like she wanted to scream or shout. One of the men told her to shut the “F” up and pushed her down the stairs.
“It was the worst sound I’ve ever heard in my life,” he said, describing her plunging headfirst into the wall. She appeared injured and could not get her balance despite her attempts to stand up, he testified. Merritt said he could not intervene as the killer beat her with a nearby 35-pound dumbbell. Then the older man went upstairs, grabbed a knife from the kitchen and stabbed her.
Finally, the men pulled out a cellphone and showed Merritt pictures of his children and ex-wife.
“If you say a single word, they’re next,” one of the men said. Then the pair left.
Pott attacked the credibility of this story, pointing out the men were ostensibly there for him, yet they let him go. They did not leave a scratch on him, and they did not steal anything from the house, she said. Merritt said they roughed him up a bit.
“They didn’t shoot you?” Pott said. “They didn’t shoot your mom?”
Merritt said he did not know their real intentions.
The prosecutor also asked him why he did not even bother warning his ex or children about the murderers. Instead, he took his mother’s car and her phone and fled. Merritt repeatedly asserted he followed the gunmen’s orders to stay quiet about the killing. In light of that, he chose not to go to the jail as scheduled. He acknowledged cutting off his ankle monitor.
However, the prosecutor said that evidence from his escape placed him in areas such as a Kroger parking lot and QuikTrip gas station. She suggested this showed that he did not believe he was being chased.
Merritt reached Nashville, adopted the name “Mick Malvo,” and lived there for eight months, even going as far as to do online dating. He fabricated major parts of his backstory, including his educational background, his employment, and his place of residence. He even lied about why his mother died. It was leukemia, he said at the time. Pott confronted him about all this, arguing that he lied when he was in trouble to get out of it. Defendant Merritt asserted it was not fair to say that.
Pott told jurors in opening statements about what authorities claim happened in Shirley Merritt’s house on Feb. 1, 2019 — the victim’s son killed her.
“He used a kitchen knife to stab her multiple times in the back, in the chest, throat, and the face,” she said. “Then he picked up a 35-pound dumbbell, which he held above her head and bludgeoned her with it.”
The defense maintains no forensic evidence links him to the killing.
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Richard Merritt testifies in Shirley Merritt murder
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