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Disbarred attorney convicted of fatally beating his mother with dumbbell and stabbing her

Richard Merritt murdered his mother Shirley Merritt, 77, on the day he was supposed to turn himself in for a fraud case, authorities said. (Mugshot: U.S. Marshals)

Richard Merritt murdered his mother Shirley Merritt, 77, on the day he was supposed to turn himself in for a fraud case, authorities said. (Mugshot: U.S. Marshals)

Jurors convicted a disbarred Georgia attorney of murder for fatally beating his mother with his 35-pound dumbbell and stabbing her with her kitchen knife on the day he was supposed to turn himself in for an unrelated fraud case.

The defendant, Richard Merritt, 49, testified Tuesday that it was actually two mysterious gunmen who killed Shirley Merritt, 77, on Feb. 1, 2019. Prosecutor Helen Pott was incredulous during cross-examination, challenging him for spending eight months on the run.

“They didn’t shoot you?” Pott said. “They didn’t shoot your mom?”

Defendant Merritt began testimony speaking about his “idyllic” life with his children and then-wife. Eventually, however, he noted he was charged with scamming his clients. Merritt settled insurance claims but left those victims in the dark and instead used that money for himself. He testified he committed the fraud because his law firm was in trouble. Pott noted that the average age of the victims was 61.2 years old.

“I wasn’t specifically targeting the elderly,” Merritt asserted.

He testified about his wife filing for divorce four days into his arrest, but his mother supported him. Shirley Merritt essentially took a second mortgage on her home to help him post bond, he said. As part of the conditions of release, he stayed with his mother at her home in DeKalb County.

He eventually pleaded guilty to the charges and was given two weeks to turn himself in to authorities.

Merritt claimed, however, that in the weeks leading up to the murder, he and his mother received apparent harassment, including strange phone calls and a cartoon rock in her mailbox.

Then came Feb. 1, 2019. Merritt testified that the plan was to have dinner at 1 p.m. and be on the road by 2:30 p.m. to get to the jail.

Before he left the home, he said there was a loud banging on the door and when he opened it up, two men with pistols pointed their guns at him and demanded he let them in.

Merritt testified to being helpless as the men forced him and his mother into the basement. Even though these two mystery men were armed, Shirley Merritt was beaten to death with a nearby 35-pound dumbbell and then stabbed with a knife from upstairs, he claimed. Defendant Merritt said he did not understand the purpose of stabbing her because she was no longer moving.

“Why is any of this happening?” he said. “It was a complete and utter nightmare.”

Then the men showed him 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 treated this account as a total fabrication, pointing out that the men were ostensibly there for him, yet they let him go. Merritt testified that he did not know their real intentions.

Pott challenged him on why he did not bother warning his children and ex-wife about the murderers. Merritt said he was just following the killers’ demands.

As the prosecutor pointed out, however, instead of calling the police he fled, taking his mother’s car, and his and her phones. He also acknowledged cutting off his ankle monitor.

After that, Merritt lived in Nashville, Tennessee under the name “Mick Malveaux.” He fabricated his backstory, even claiming his mother died of leukemia. Kelly Richardson testified to dating “Malveaux,” meeting him on an online dating app in July 2019.

Between the fraud case, the murder and Tennessee, Pott suggested that Merritt had a pattern of lying to get out of trouble. The defendant denied that during his testimony.

His attorneys asserted that there is no forensic evidence tying their client to the murder.

“There was no animosity between Richard and his mother,” attorney Daryl Queen said.

Merritt testified that his relationship with his mother was not toxic. They laughed a lot and spent much time together, he said. He described her as a “steel magnolia,” and a “strong southern woman.”

Potts acknowledged during closing arguments that the state lacked eyewitnesses to the murder, but she said that is okay because the circumstantial evidence proved Merritt’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Update: Judge Courtney Johnson sentenced Merritt to life in prison without parole plus five years.

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