(ATLANTA) — The U.S. Marshals Service is conducting a nationwide manhunt after an ex-lawyer, who was supposed to turn himself in for a 30-year sentence, allegedly killed his mother, cut off his ankle monitoring bracelet and fled.
Richard Merritt, 44, is wanted for the murder of his mother in DeKalb County, Georgia, after she was found “violently killed” on Feb. 2, according to U.S. Marshals.
Merritt was scheduled to turn himself in to authorities in Cobb County on Feb. 1 after pleading guilty to stealing money from clients at his law firm, as well as committing elder abuse, according to a release from the Marshals Service. He was to serve 15 years in prison and 15 years probation. Instead, he is accused of stabbing his mother to death and stealing her silver Lexus SUV.
The elder abuse charge was unrelated to his mother, according to an indictment.
“He probably knows people all over the country, being a lawyer,” Frank Lempka, a member of the U.S. Marshals Service tasked with finding Merritt, told Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB. “He could be anywhere. We think he may be anywhere in the country.”
The fugitive was a partner at Merritt & Fletcher LLC Attorneys in Smyrna, Georgia. Merritt became a lawyer in 2000 and was disbarred in January 2018, according to a ruling from the state Supreme Court. Merritt admitted in February 2017 to stealing $75,000 from a client and voluntarily surrendered his license, according to the ruling.
In the criminal case for which he pleaded guilty, he was indicted on a total of 34 counts and allegedly stole over $420,000 from 17 clients. The indictment claims Merritt forged the signatures of many of his clients on checks and then cashed them and kept the money for himself.
Lempka called him “very unpredictable” and said “he could hurt or kill someone else at this point.”
“He may have shaved his head or otherwise changed his appearance, and should be considered armed and dangerous,” the U.S. Marshals Service said in its release. “Do not try to engage him.”
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