Richard Merritt testifies in the murder of Shirley Merritt

Richard Merritt testifies Tuesday, May 23, 2023, in his murder trial. Authorities said he fatally stabbed and beat his mother, Shirley Merritt, 77, on the day he was supposed to turn himself in for a fraud case. (Screenshot: Law&Crime Network)

A disbarred lawyer on trial for stabbing his elderly mother with his kitchen knife and beating her with his 35-pound dumbbell on the day he was supposed to turn up for a fraud case has testified that two mysterious gunmen carried out the murder .

The defendant, Richard Merritt, 49, claimed on Tuesday that Shirley Merritt, 77, was struck first and stabbed when she was obviously not moving.

“I didn’t understand what the goal would be because she wasn’t moving,” he said. “Why is all this happening? It was a complete and utter nightmare.

But prosecutor Helen Pott confronted him for his history of lying, dating back to his fraud case. She pointed out that after the murder, he fled his mother’s home in DeKalb County, Georgia, and lived for eight months in Nashville, Tennessee, under an alias, getting a new girlfriend and using the woman as housing.

“I wouldn’t go that far, no,” Merritt said, denying using the woman. He said he really cared about her.

As defendant Merritt admitted in testimony, he was previously convicted of defrauding clients. Pott noted that he represented people injured in car accidents or otherwise had insurance claims. Merritt settled those claims but left his clients in the dark. Instead, he kept the money for his use. Merritt, who testified to living an “idyllic” life with his children and then-wife, said he committed the fraud because his business was struggling. Pott noted that the average age of victims was 61.2.

“I wasn’t specifically targeting older people,” he said.

His wife filed for divorce four days after his arrest, he said. Meanwhile, his mother took out a second mortgage on his house so he could post bail during the case, and he said he stayed at her house under the terms of his release. Eventually, however, he pleaded guilty and the judge gave him two weeks before he was due to surrender.

On February 1, 2019, he was at his mother’s house. The plan was to eat there around 1 p.m. and leave around 2:30 p.m. But there was a loud knock on the door, which had no peephole, he testified. Defendant Merritt said he opened it. Two foreign men with pistols pointed their guns at him and told him to let them in, he said.

This incident followed weeks of anonymous and apparent harassment, according to his testimony. Merritt said he and his mother received strange phone calls and saw suspicious vehicles passing by at least 20 to 30 times. He told an incredulous Pott that he hadn’t told the neighbors about it. He also did not contact law enforcement. He wasn’t sure what his mother had done, he said. He also claimed that someone personally put a cartoon stone in his mother’s mailbox. The stress of that and his legal troubles caused him health problems, he said.

He testified that on the day of the murder, the gunmen forced him and his mother down the stairs to the basement. He suggested they boxed the residence based on their knowledge of the basement.

He described one man as taller, athletically slim, around 6ft tall and in his 50s. This individual was supposedly wearing a black long-sleeved thermal top and Dickies khaki pants. Merritt described the other as “fat,” with shoulder-length brown hair, probably 5 feet, eight inches to nine inches tall. This person had on a camo hoodie and blue jeans.

Merritt claimed her mother was crying, making sounds like she wanted to scream or shout. One of the men told her to shut the “F” and pushed her down the stairs.

“It was the worst sound I’ve ever heard in my life,” he said, describing her plunging headfirst into the wall. She appeared injured and could not regain her balance despite her attempts to get up, he testified. Merritt said he couldn’t intervene because the killer beat her with a nearby 35-pound dumbbell. Then the older man came upstairs, grabbed a knife from the kitchen and stabbed her.

Finally, the men pulled out a cell phone and showed Merritt pictures of his children and his ex-wife.

“If you say one word, they’re next,” said one of the men. Then the couple left.

Pott attacked the credibility of this story, pointing out that the men were apparently there for him, but they let him go. They didn’t leave a scratch on her and they didn’t steal anything from the house, she said. Merritt said they roughed him up a bit.

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

Merritt said he didn’t know their true intentions.

The prosecutor also asked him why he didn’t even bother to warn his ex or his children about the murderers. Instead, he took his mother’s car and phone and drove off. Merritt has repeatedly claimed that he followed the gunmen’s orders to remain silent about the murder. In light of this, he chose not to go to jail as planned. He admitted cutting off his ankle monitor.

However, the prosecutor said evidence of his escape placed him in areas including a Kroger parking lot and a QuikTrip gas station. She suggested it showed he didn’t believe he was being prosecuted.

Merritt reached Nashville, adopted the name “Mick Malvo” and lived there for eight months, even dating online. He fabricated the major parts of his backstory, including his education, employment, and where he lives. He even lied about his mother’s death. It was leukemia, he said at the time. Pott confronted him about the whole thing, saying he lied when he was struggling to get out of it. Defendant Merritt asserted that it was not fair to say this.

Pott told jurors in his opening statements what authorities claimed happened at Shirley Merritt’s home on Feb. 1, 2019 — the victim’s son killed her.

“He used a kitchen knife to stab her multiple times in the back, chest, throat and face,” she said. “Then he picked up a 35-pound dumbbell, held it above her head and bludgeoned her with it.”

The defense argues that no forensic evidence connects him to the murder.

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