A nationwide manhunt is underway for Richard Merritt, who police said removed his court-ordered ankle monitor before allegedly killing his mother Feb. 2 and stealing her 2009 silver Lexus. He has been on the run since, according to DeKalb County police.
"We're terrified," Jenine Merritt told NBC News on Monday, referring to herself and their two children, who are 12 and 14. "We're terrified because of what we know he's capable of now."
Richard Merritt, 44, was scheduled to surrender to authorities Feb. 1 in Cobb County, after he was sentenced to 15 years behind bars and 15 years on probation for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from elderly clients between 2014 and 2017. After the conviction, he had been given until Feb. 1 to “get his affairs in order.”
On the eve of the date he was supposed to report to jail, Jenine Merritt said he threatened her life in a late-night phone call.
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He was "clearly drunk," she said, saying her ex-husband "is a serious alcoholic."
Richard Merritt was verbally abusive on a regular basis, but had never before physically threatened her, she said.
The Merritts divorced in 2018 after 19 years of marriage.
Jenine Merritt added that she is "horrified" by the death of her former mother-in-law, Shirley Merritt, describing her as "a good mother and grandmother."
"That part does not feel real to us," she said. "And maybe, once we move on to the point where we're not scared for our safety, we can really begin the grieving process, which we need to do."
Richard Merritt is now the subject of a nationwide search, Frank Lempka, an inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service, said.
He may have shaved his head in an attempt to change his appearance and should be considered armed and dangerous, the Marshals Service said. The agency is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to his arrest.
Richard Merritt filed multiple medical malpractice claims for his clients and later admitted in court that he pocketed much of what they had won. He used the settlements on personal expenses including vacations, authorities said.
"We lost our home, we lost everything we had," Jenine Merritt said of her ex-husband's conviction. "I had no idea that he had done these things to these poor people that trusted him and needed him."
She also said she had no idea her then-husband was paying for their vacations with stolen money and would not have participated if she had known.
She believes it is only a matter of time before he is caught.
"We're tired of looking over our shoulder, and we're looking for closure and to move on with our lives," she said.
Janelle Griffith is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.