The U.S. Marshals Service announced Saturday that it is searching for a disbarred Georgia attorney who removed his court-ordered ankle monitor before allegedly murdering his mother a week ago.
He has been on the run ever since.
Richard Merritt's elderly mother was found dead a week ago, "having been violently killed," the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement. Dekalb County Police said Shirley Merritt had been stabbed to death inside her Stone Mountain, Georgia, home and police identified her son as the main suspect last week.
Richard Merritt, 44, was scheduled to surrender to authorities the day prior to his mother's murder after he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his elderly clients between 2014 and 2017.
An ambulance chaser, Richard Merritt pursued multiple medical malpractice claims for his clients and admitted later in court that he pocketed much of what they won.
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“The victims came to him for help, and he helped himself instead,” said Jason Marbutt, a senior assistant district attorney of the Cobb County District Attorney's office, in a statement. “People ought to be able to trust their lawyer. When a lawyer lies, it has ripple effects on the entire system.”
Richard Merritt was charged with more than 30 counts of theft, forgery and elder abuse.
His car was found at the scene of the crime but his mother's vehicle was missing. Merritt is suspected of stealing her 2009 silver Lexus after allegedly murdering her and going on the run.
Frank Lempka, inspector with the U.S. Marshals, said the search for Merritt is nationwide, adding that he had contacts throughout the South.
"He allegedly killed his mother so someone else that could be close to him, could trust him, could try to help him, and he could potentially kill them, too," Lempka said.
Merritt practiced law in Georgia and went to school in Mississippi, and could have contacts in those states, Lempka said, but added that there is currently no indication he reached out to former clients or classmates.
"He's very dangerous at this point. After what he already did recently, he's extremely dangerous to the public and to anyone who may encounter him," Lempka said.
The suspect's brother, Robert Merritt, said their mother was very supportive of Richard Merritt's legal career and described them as very close prior to the murder. The brother went on to share that Richard Merritt, who considered himself a "southern gentleman," had been living with their mother.
Though the siblings are estranged, Robert Merritt said the family never thought him capable of such violence, though they were well aware how Richard Merritt had hurt people financially.
"Now there's another victim, my mother, who was brutally murdered," Robert Merritt said. "And, we've got a whole family who's concerned and frightened. And we have the victims who are being victimized again because they don't know where he is."
The U.S. Marshals Service said that Richard Merritt may have shaved his head in an attempt to change his appearance and should be considered armed and dangerous.
His former clients consider him to be "a mendacious scoundrel" and "a professional con man," according to the Cobb County District Attorney's office.
Phil McCausland is an NBC News reporter focused on rural issues and the social safety net.