Ex-attorney on the run after failure to report to jail; his mother was found dead
A disbarred Georgia attorney facing 15 years in jail for defrauding clients out of their settlement checks remains on the run after police suspect that he stabbed his 77-year-old mother to death over the weekend.
Richard Merritt, a former personal injury and medical malpractice lawyer from Smyrna, Georgia, was ordered to report to the Cobb County Jail on Friday after pleading guilty in January to more than 30 counts of felony, including theft, forgery and elder-exploitation charges related to crimes committed against 17 former clients. When Merritt didn’t appear, his cousin, Michael Jefcoat, planned to drive him to jail on Saturday and heard from his mother, Shirley Merritt, that he was at her house, according to Law.com, the Marietta Daily Journal and Fox 5 News.
Police said in a report cited in the news coverage that when Jefcoat arrived nearly two hours later, he found Merritt’s mother dead of apparent stab wounds at the bottom of the basement staircase. Investigators found what appeared to be a broken-off steak knife handle next to her.
Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert Flournoy III sentenced Merritt to 30 years, with 15 to serve in jail and the rest on probation, and ordered him to pay $454,706 in restitution, according to the Marietta Daily Journal. He granted Merritt’s request for time “to get his affairs in order,” according to Fox 5 News.
According to a statement provided to Law.com by Merritt’s attorney, David Willingham of the Willingham Law Firm in Marietta, at the time Merritt pleaded guilty: “My client did not set out in his legal career with evil intentions or with a plan to become a thief, liar and deceiver. He developed into that person slowly over time and under the pressure, stress and anxiety associated with practicing law—as well as an addiction to alcohol.”