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Georgia lawyer convicted of fraud and murder of mother before going on the run

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Georgia lawyer convicted of fraud and murder of mother before going on the run

What seemed like 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.

Richard Merritt spent part of his childhood in 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.

“It was a very impressive time for [Richard]notes Robert Merritt Jr., now 58, who was in graduate school when his siblings, nine years his junior, and their parents moved around the world. “He had it in his head, he liked that lifestyle.”

According to Robert, his brother's manipulative behavior started early and worsened over the years. In ninth grade, Richard moved to Atlanta to live with Robert so he could continue his education. Robert reports that at the time he was stuck acting as his brother's “cook, driver and house servant.”

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 initially struggled to get his career off the ground. According to Robert, his brother was “lazy” and failed the exam several times. However, Richard failed on his third attempt, allowing him to realize his dream of becoming “filthy rich” and a “jet-setter,” says Robert.

In November 2000, Robert Sr. died suddenly while traveling with his wife, Shirley. The grieving widow dedicated herself to spending time with her grandchildren and rebuilding her life.

Meanwhile, Richard worked for the Georgia Attorney General's Office and then for several law firms. His successful career allowed him to work with Atlanta's elite, travel and live a good life, success and all.

In 2003, Richard moved his growing family to Smyrna, Georgia. There, Richard and his wife raised their son and daughter and seven years later he opened his own law practice.

With his seemingly burgeoning success, Richard seemed to have created the ideal life.

But in May 2017, that veneer of perfection was shattered when he received a court summons after returning from a family vacation. According to prosecutors, the attorney settled a lawsuit for two sisters who were clients, but pocketed the $70,000 settlement check without their knowledge.

Investigators examining Richard's practice also concluded that he may have defrauded up to 17 victims and stole over $450,000. Not only did Richard lose his law license and his livelihood, his wife also filed for divorce and fought for custody of their children.

Despite the criminal charges against him, Richard's devoted mother, Shirley, stood by him, bailing him out of the DeKalb County Jail and paying his legal fees.

“My mother begged them to let him live with her,” Robert recalls of Richard’s living conditions while awaiting trial. “She wanted to protect him and help him. I think that was a big mistake.”

In January 2019, Richard pleaded guilty to the fraud charges against him. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution to his victims. The judge presiding over the case gave Richard two weeks to get his affairs in order before reporting to the jail about the circumstances in which he wore an ankle monitor and lived with his mother, Shirley, at their DeKalb County home.

On the day he was supposed to turn himself in to the authorities, Richard refused to turn himself in. Investigators reportedly analyzed data from Richard's ankle monitor, which they later found in a trash can at a gas station.

Richard Merritt was on the run.

A day later, on February 2, 2019, 77-year-old Shirley was found brutally murdered in her home. “It's shocking beyond words,” Robert says, explaining that his mother was stabbed so badly that the knife handle broke and the blade stuck in her face. A bloody 35-pound dumbbell was found near the elderly victim's body.

Richard, who was immediately suspected of his mother's murder, managed to elude authorities for eight months. But in September 2019, he was in Nashville, Tennessee, living under the false name Mick Malveaux. During his time on the run, he managed to find a job and a new girlfriend.

An investigation revealed that Richard owed his mother a total of around $500,000. Robert says he believes his brother “manipulated” and “bullied” Shirley for financial reasons. “He did to my mother exactly what he had done to his clients.”

Richard was charged with his mother's murder in Georgia and 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 it for the rest of his life.”

He added: “The absolute lack of respect and clear contempt he has shown for his family, his mother and his father's memory is unforgivable.”