FORMER ATTORNEY SENTENCED TO LIFE IN PRISON FOR KILLING 77-YEAR-OLD MOTHER
State vs. Richard Merritt
Decatur, Ga.- DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston announces a conviction by jury trial in the murder case against a former attorney accused of stabbing and beating his mother to death. Jurors returned guilty verdicts in just one hour on Wednesday, May 24, 2023 against 49-year-old Richard Merritt on charges of Malice Murder, Felony Murder (two counts), Aggravated Assault (two counts), and Possession of a Knife During the Commission of a Felony in connection with the 2019 stabbing and beating death of his mother, Shirley Merritt, 77, at her DeKalb home.
At the time of the fatal incident on February 1, 2019, Defendant Merritt was living at his mother’s home in Stone Mountain. He’d lost his Bar license after stealing from clients and being indicted in Cobb County on 34 theft-related felony charges. When Merritt entered a guilty plea in Cobb County on January 18, 2019, he was sentenced to 30 years to serve 15 years in custody, and ordered to wear an ankle monitor until turning himself in at the Cobb County Jail at 5 p.m. on February 1.
On February 1, an out-of-state relative arranged a visit to support Shirley and drive Merritt to jail. On the morning of the murder, Shirley sent an uncharacteristic text message discouraging the relative from coming to town.
The Defendant’s ankle monitor shows he was at the home on February 1 from 9:38 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., when he left the house. He traveled on 285 West to 75 North, passed the Cobb County Jail, and continued north. At 4:12 p.m. Merritt pulled off the highway and severed his ankle monitor. An employee of the monitoring company tracking the Defendant’s GPS coordinates noticed the discrepancy. Only 14 minutes after the alert, the ankle monitor was found in a trash can at a truck stop. The Cobb District Attorney’s office and Sherriff’s Department were dispatched, but the Defendant had already fled.
Family members attempted to contact Shirley multiple times, but did not receive a response. The DeKalb County Police Department performed a welfare check at her residence that evening, and noted that all of the doors were secure and there was no answer at the door. In the morning, family checked the house, and found Defendant Merritt’s car in the driveway but Shirley’s car missing. After entering the home, a family member found the victim lying face down at the bottom of the basement stairs, deceased.
When police arrived on scene, they discovered that Shirley had been stabbed multiple times, and had a blade protruding from her right cheek. Near her body, they found a 35 lb. dumbbell with blood and hair, and the handle that matched the protruding blade. In the kitchen, officers found the table set for two and food cooking on the stove. A knife was missing from the knife block – the same knife that stabbed Shirley. There were no signs of forced entry, and no signs of struggle. Besides Shirley’s vehicle and cell phone, it did not appear that any valuables or electronics had been stolen.
During the course of the investigation, surveillance footage from the afternoon of the murder was recovered from a gas station that shows Defendant Merritt driving Shirley’s car. Location data also shows Shirley’s phone in the same area where the Defendant removed his ankle monitor later that afternoon.
A nationwide manhunt for Defendant Merritt conducted by the U.S. Marshals Service, the Cobb County Marshals Office and the DeKalb County Marshals Office lasted eight months. He was apprehended in Nashville, Tennessee when Vanderbilt University Police came across Shirley Merritt’s vehicle with a stolen tag from another vehicle. The U.S. Marshals Office impounded and searched the vehicle, finding a fake Louisiana license with the Defendant’s photo and the name “Mick Malveaux,” a contact lens prescription with the same name, and receipts that were then used to track Merritt’s movements. He had been living out of the car and with a girlfriend he’d met on a dating app. Merritt was taken into custody without incident on September 30, 2019.
During trial, Defendant Merritt testified that two unknown men with guns had shown up at the home on the day he was to turn himself in, murdered his mother in front of him, threatened the rest of his family, then allowed him to leave. The story had not been communicated to law enforcement until his testimony.
Following his conviction, Defendant Merritt was immediately sentenced to a term of life in prison without parole plus five years to run consecutively by DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson who presided over the trial.
The case, assigned to the District Attorney’s Homicide & Gangs Unit, was prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Helen Pott, with assistance from Senior ADA Garrett Emmons, DA Investigator Curtis Averhart, and Victim Advocate Jozlyn Varnedoe. DeKalb County Police Department Detective McQuilkin led the initial investigation.