By KATIE McLAUGHLIN
DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. (Court TV) — A judge sentenced a disgraced Georgia attorney to life in prison without parole for beating and stabbing his 77-year-old mother to death.
The jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning a guilty verdict on all charges against Richard Merritt. He was found guilty of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony in connection with the 2019 death of Shirley Merritt at her DeKalb County home.
WATCH: Attorney Accused of Killing Mother: Jury Reaches Verdict
According to reports, Shirley cooked Richard a final family meal on February 1, 2019 — the day he was supposed to report to prison for theft and other related charges. Richard had been living with his mother while out on bond. Authorities say he killed her, cut off his ankle monitor and fled in her Lexus SUV, sparking a nationwide manhunt.
U.S. Marshals caught up with Richard eight months later in Nashville.
Richard, now 49, was a personal injury lawyer before he pleaded guilty to charges of theft, forgery and elder exploitation in January 2019 for stealing more than $420,000 from over a dozen clients. According to prosecutors, he settled malpractice suits and pocketed the settlement money for himself without notifying his clients.
In that case, a judge sentenced Richard to 15 years in prison but gave him a couple of weeks to get his affairs in order before beginning his sentence.
According to the State Bar of Georgia, Richard surrendered his law license back in January 2018, prior to being booked in the theft case.
At the start of his trial, Merritt was serving 15 years for violating his probation on top of the 15-year sentence he was given for theft and exploiting the elderly. He had also been ordered to pay $454,706 in restitution.
DAILY TRIAL UPDATES
DAY 4 – 5/24/23
- The prosecution delivered its closing argument, arguing that the story Merritt told when he testified was fiction.
- The defense emphasized a lack of DNA evidence at the scene tying Merritt to the crime.
- The jury convicted Richard Merritt on all counts for the death of his mother, Shirley.
- Michael Jeffcoat, the victim’s brother, spoke on behalf of the family and delivered a victim impact statement
- Jeffcoat told the court about Merritt: “The entire family hates him.”
- Merritt spoke before sentencing and told the judge he respected the court and hopes one day his family comes back into his life.
- Merritt was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, plus five years.
DAY 3 – 5/23/23
- Dr. Bruce Wainer, the associate medical examiner in the DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office, testified that Shirley Merritt’s cause of death was a combination of blunt impact injury and stab wounds and that injuries to the right side of her head were consistent with being hit with a dumbbell.
- Investigator Amber Winslow, with the DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office, testified that Shirley Merritt was found at the bottom of the stairs on her left side with trauma to her neck and face and a large knife blade sticking out of her cheek. There was a 35-pound weight found near her.
- Defendant Richard Merritt took the stand in his own defense and confessed to stealing money from clients.
- Merritt said that there were 13 victims and he had been charged with 43 counts of fraud.
- Merritt said that he felt someone was out to get him and that someone sent a cartoon to his mother’s house in DeKalb County, where he was staying. He said that copies of the same cartoon were delivered to other places as well.
- Merritt denied killing his mother and said that two very large men came to the door with guns and forced their way inside.
- Merritt said the two men threatened him, putting a pistol to his back, and led him and his mother downstairs, where they beat her to death in front of him.
- Merritt said the men threatened the rest of his family, which is why he stole his mother’s car and went on the run.
- Under cross-examination, Merritt admitted to lying about his name and background while he was on the run and admitted he never told his family or police the story about the two men with guns.
- WATCH: Murdered Mom: Attorney on Trial: Defendant Takes the Stand
- WATCH: Murdered Mom: Attorney on Trial: Defendant on Cross-Examination
DAY 2 – 5/19/23
- Steve Queen, who works for CSRA Probation Services, testified that he received an alert on Feb. 1, 2019, that Merritt had manipulated the ankle monitor he was mandated to wear.
- Jurors were shown a video of Merritt visiting a Quik Trip near his home.
- Kelly Richardson, who dated Merritt when he was in Nashville, testified that he lied to her during their relationship.
- Merritt told her his name was Mick Malveaux.
- Merritt said that he worked in marketing.
- Meritt told Richardson that his father died of heart complications and his mother died of Leukemia. He said he had a miscarriage with an ex-wife and no surviving children.
- Richardson said the relationship ended when he was arrested, and after the arrest he attempted to call her and send her postcards.
- WATCH: Merritt’s Ex-Girlfriend Testifies in Murder Trial
- During cross-examination, Richardson said that Merritt was never violent towards her.
DAY 1 – 5/18/23
- The jury hears opening statements
- The defendant’s ex-wife, Jenine Minicozzi, takes the stand
- The defendant’s cousin, Mike Jefcoat, testifies to finding his aunt’s body