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Richard Vinson Merritt, 44, is accused of stabbing his mother to death on the day he was supposed to begin a 15-year prison sentence on theft charges. Shirley Merritt, 77, was discovered dead inside her home in Stone Mountain, Georgia, on Saturday, February 2, 2019.
Police in DeKalb County, Georgia, issued a warrant for Merritt’s arrest. It’s believed Merritt managed to free himself from an ankle monitor and fled in his mother’s vehicle.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Police: Merritt May Be Driving a Brown Lexus With Georgia Plates
DeKalb police are asking the public to be on the lookout for Richard Merritt. He is about 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighs approximately 175 pounds. He has brown hair and brown eyes. In his mugshot from the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office, Merritt had a goatee.
When police arrived at Shirley Merritt’s house, they discovered that her car was missing. Officers believe Merritt took the vehicle, which is described as a brown Lexus RX350. The model year is 2009 with Georgia plate. The license plate number is CBV6004.
Anyone who spots Merritt or the vehicle is asked to contact the DeKalb County Police Department at 770-724-7850. You can also leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers at 404-577-TIPS(8477).
2. Report: Shirley Merritt Told Her Son to Turn Himself In, According to the Family Member Who Later Found Her Stabbed to Death
A family member spoke with Shirley Merritt on the phone shortly before her death. The Marietta Daily Journal, citing the DeKalb police affidavit, reported that Richard Merritt’s cousin was driving to Stone Mountain from Alabama on February 2. He was going to take Merritt to the jail in Cobb County. Merritt was due to start a 15-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to charges including theft and forgery (more on that below).
The cousin, whose name was not released, called 911 after arriving at the house after finding Shirley at the bottom of the stairs in the basement. She had stab wounds on her side. According to the report, detectives found what looked to be a steak knife handle laying next to her.
Merritt’s cousin told police that he had spoken with Shirley about 90 minutes before finding her body. She had allegedly told him that “everything was fine.” She was also reportedly talking to Merritt about surrendering to police. We have reached out to the DeKalb police about obtaining a copy of the police report.
3. Richard Merritt, a Former Attorney, Pleaded Guilty in January 2019 to Stealing Money From His Clients
Richard Merritt was indicted in 2018 on multiple charges in Cobb County Superior Court. Merritt worked as an attorney and was accused of stealing from 17 of his clients.
Prosecutors said Merritt would tell his clients that their cases were ongoing. But in reality, he settled their cases and pocketed the settlements. A grand jury indicted Merrit on 34 counts including Theft By Taking, Forgery in the First Degree, Forgery in the Third Degree, and Elder Exploitation.
Merritt pleaded guilty to the charges in January 2019. You can see his signature in the document embedded above.
Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert Flournoy III ordered Merritt to spend 15 years behind bars, followed by another 15 years on probation. He was also ordered to pay more than $450,000 in restitution.
Merritt did not report directly to jail. He asked the judge to allow him a few days to “get his affairs in order.” The judge agreed and told him to surrender by 5 p.m. on February 1, 2019. But Merritt did not comply with that order; as explained above, his cousin was going to drive him to jail on February 2.
4. Richard Merritt Was Stripped of His Legal License in January of 2018
Richard Merritt was admitted to the bar in 2000 and ran his own private practice in Smyrna, Georgia. But he was stripped of his license in January of 2018 by the Supreme Court of Georgia. That document is embedded above.
Merritt admitted to the court that he had stolen settlement money from a client. He had settled her personal injury lawsuit for $75,000 “but failed to promptly disburse those funds to his client or her medical providers and failed to render a full accounting of the funds to his client.”
Merritt voluntarily surrendered his legal license because he acknowledged that the rules he had broken “would be tantamount to disbarment” anyway.
5. Merritt Reportedly Used His Client’s Stolen Money to Go on Vacations & a Sports Car
Richard Merritt had to face his former clients when he pleaded guilty in court to the theft charges. A reporter from Fox affiliate WAGA-TV was in the courtroom as Merritt apologized and admitted: “There’s no excuse for my behavior.”
His former clients told the TV station that they just wanted to see Merritt go to prison, expressing skepticism that Merritt would be able to pay the restitution anyway.
During the time frame in which Merritt admitted to stealing from his clients, he used the money to go on vacations, attend professional sporting events and purchased a