Georgia Lawyer Convicted Of Fraud Murders Mother Before Going On Lam
“It’s shocking beyond description,” the brother of convicted killer Richard Merritt says of the case.
What appeared to be the perfect family was torn apart after a man whose own brother called him a “master manipulator” killed their mother and then went on the run.
During part of his childhood, Richard Merritt lived in the lap of luxury in Saudi Arabia with his parents, Shirley and Robert Sr., after Robert Sr. retired from the military and began a much more lucrative career with a defense contractor.
“That was a very impressionable time for [Richard],” notes Robert Merritt Jr., now 58, who was in graduate school when his nine-years-younger sibling and their parents moved across the world. “He had it in his head, he liked that lifestyle.”
According to Robert, his brother’s manipulative behavior started early on and worsened over the years. In ninth grade, Richard moved to Atlanta to live with Robert so he could continue his education. Robert notes he was stuck at the time acting as his entitled brother’s “cook, driver and houseboy.”
In the early 1990s, Robert Sr. and Shirley also moved back to Georgia, and Robert Sr. retired.
Years later, Richard, who went on to study law, married his college sweetheart and at first struggled to get his career off the ground. According to Robert, his brother was “lazy” and failed the bar multiple times. On his third attempt, however, Richard passed, allowing him to pursue his dream of becoming “filthy rich” and a “jetsetter,” Robert says.
In November 2000, Robert Sr. died suddenly while on a trip with his wife, Shirley. The grieving widow threw herself into spending time with her grandchildren and rebuilding her life.
Meanwhile, Richard had gone on to work for the Georgia Attorney General’s Office and then with multiple law firms. His high-powered career allowed him to rub shoulders with Atlanta’s elite, travel and live the good life with success and all the trappings.
In 2003, Richard moved with his expanding family to Smyrna, Georgia. There, Richard and his wife raised their son and daughter, and seven years later, he opened his own law firm.
With his seemingly burgeoning success, Richard appeared to have created the ideal life.
But in May 2017, that veneer of perfection shattered when he received a court summons after returning from a family vacation. According to prosecutors, the lawyer had settled a lawsuit for two sisters who were clients, but, unbeknownst to them, he had pocketed their $70,000 settlement check.
Investigators looking into Richard’s practice also determined he may have defrauded up to 17 victims and stolen over $450,000. Not only did Richard lose his law license and livelihood as a result, his wife also filed for divorce and fought for custody of their children.
Despite the criminal allegations against him, Richard’s devoted mother, Shirley, stood by his side, bailing him out of the DeKalb County Jail and paying his legal fees.
“My mother begged for them to let him stay with her,” Robert recalls of Richard’s housing arrangements while awaiting trial. “She was going to protect him and help him. I think that was a huge mistake.”
In January 2019, Richard pleaded guilty to the fraud charges against him. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to compensate his victims. The judge on the case granted Richard two weeks to get his affairs in order before reporting to prison on the conditions he wear an ankle monitor and remain with his mother, Shirley, at her DeKalb County home.
On the day he was to surrender to authorities, Richard failed to turn himself in. According to reports, investigators analyzed data from Richard’s ankle monitor, which they later found in a trash can at a gas station.
Richard Merritt had gone on the run.
A day later, on Feb. 2, 2019, Shirley, 77, was found brutally murdered in her home. “It’s shocking beyond description,” Robert says, explaining his mother was stabbed so savagely that the knife handle broke and the blade was left embedded in her face. A bloody 35-pound barbell was found near the elderly victim’s body.
Richard, who was immediately a suspect in his mother’s slaying, managed to elude authorities for the next eight months. But in September 2019, he was located in Nashville, Tennessee, living under the assumed name Mick Malveaux. During his time on the lam, he had managed to find a job and new girlfriend.
An investigation determined that Richard owed his mother a total of around $500,000. Robert says he believes his brother “manipulated” and “bullied” Shirley for financial gain. “He did to my mother exactly what he had done to his clients.”
Charged with his mother’s murder in Georgia, Richard pleaded not guilty in May 2023. At the end of his trial, the jury deliberated for just an hour and a half before returning a guilty verdict. Richard, now 49, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Robert says he has absolutely no pity for his younger sibling. “I think he deserves to be where he is,” he explains. “I think he can sit there and think about this for the rest of his life.”
He adds, “The absolute lack of respect and the clear disdain he has showed for his family, his mother, his father’s memory, is unforgiveable.”
For more on this case, stream American Monster: “Success at Any Cost” on Max.
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