A disbarred Smyrna attorney sentenced to 15 years for defrauding clients out of their settlement checks is on the run after police say he stabbed his 77-year-old mother to death.

Richard Merritt, 44, is wanted by DeKalb Police for allegedly killing Shirley Merritt Saturday evening at her Stone Mountain home.

The former attorney admitted last month to settling some of his clients’ lawsuits without telling them, forging their signatures and keeping their settlement checks, according to Kim Isaza, spokesperson for the Cobb District Attorney’s Office.

Merritt pleaded guilty to theft, forgery and elder-exploitation charges related to crimes committed against 17 former clients.

He falsely told his clients he was working on their cases, but instead spent their unauthorized settlement funds on lavish vacations and a Porsche, Isaza said.

He was sentenced by Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert Flournoy III to 30 years with 15 to serve in prison and the rest on probation, and ordered to pay $454,706 in restitution.

But instead of having him taken into custody immediately, Flournoy granted Merritt’s request for time to “get his affairs in order” before going to prison, Isaza said, giving him until 5 p.m. on Feb. 1 to turn himself in.

According to the DeKalb police report, Merritt’s cousin drove from Alabama to take him to the Cobb jail Saturday night, one day after Merritt had agreed to turn himself in. But he arrived to find Shirley Merritt dead at the bottom of the basement stairs with lacerations to her side. Investigators discovered what appeared to be the handle of a steak knife next to the woman.

The cousin told police he spoke with Shirley Merritt about an hour and a half before arriving and she told him everything was fine and that she was talking with her son about turning himself in, according to the report.

Police say Richard Merritt could be driving his mother’s brown 2009 Lexus RX350 which was missing from the home. The SUV has a Georgia tag CBV6004.

The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office Fugitive Unit has taken over the search for Merritt, who managed to cut off his ankle monitor.

Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to contact police.


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