COBB COUNTY, Ga. — A disbarred Cobb County attorney who is accused of killing his mother in DeKalb County was arrested in Tennessee on Monday afternoon, authorities confirmed.
Richard Merritt was taken into custody at Southern Thrift Store in Nashville, U.S. Marshals spokesman Frank Lempka told AJC.com. He had changed his appearance, including growing out his hair in the back, Lempka added.
Merritt had been scheduled to report to custody Feb. 1 after pleading guilty to theft and elder abuse in Cobb, AJC.com previously reported. However, he disappeared after allegedly removing his ankle monitor.'
A day later, his mother, Shirley Merritt, was found dead at her home in the 1500 block of Planters Row in Tucker, DeKalb police said. Her son had been living there while out on bond.
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Right after he fled, he was spotted on surveillance video at a gas station near Cartersville, U.S. Marshals previously said. Since he had taken off, he immediately became the primary murder suspect.
Merritt had pleaded guilty to settling civil lawsuits without telling his clients and keeping the money for himself. He used the money taken from clients, some elderly or filing medical malpractice claims, to buy a Porsche or go on vacation, investigators said.
In addition to his 15 years in prison, he was sentenced to 15 years of probation and ordered to pay a restitution of $454,706.
Merritt surrendered his license to practice law in January 2018, according to records from the State Bar of Georgia. He was booked into jail soon after.
Lempka said Merritt will be booked into the Davidson County Jail. U.S. Marshals handed Merritt over to Nashville Metro police after the arrest, and he’ll soon be extradited to DeKalb County.
Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren released a statement shortly after the news broke of the arrest, praising the work done by investigators.
“This is another great example of solid investigative work and law enforcement partners working together,” Warren said.
Cobb District Attorney Joyette M. Holmes released the following statement about Merritt's arrest:
“I am grateful for the dedication of everyone who assisted in the eight-month-long search for Richard Vinson Merritt. Over these many months and particularly as the situation quickly evolved over the weekend, members of the Cobb District Attorney’s Office were integral in supporting the U.S. Marshals task force. I am also extremely thankful that no officers were injured while taking Mr. Merritt into custody in Tennessee.
Mr. Merritt was convicted in January 2019 of theft and elder-exploitation charges in Cobb County, and he was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison plus 15 more years on probation, with the condition that he turn himself in on Feb. 1, 2019, or the probated portion of the sentence would be revoked and he would be ordered to serve the full 30 years in custody.
As we all know, he did not turn himself in as ordered, and thus at some point he will be returned to Cobb for a hearing to revoke his probation.
Separately, Mr. Merritt has been formally charged with the murder of his mother, Shirley, in DeKalb County. It is a relief to know he is back in custody and I am confident that justice will ultimately prevail."
Cox Media Group