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First he stole from the elderly. Now an ex-lawyer is in jail on suspicion of killing his mother.

Booking photo of Richard Vinson Merritt (Metropolitan Nashville Police Department) (Metropolitan Nashville Police Department)
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A former lawyer convicted of swindling elderly clients and accused of killing his mother was caught by officials in a Nashville thrift store on Monday, authorities say.

Richard Vinson Merritt, 45, has been on the run since February when he was supposed to turn himself in and start serving 15 years of his 30 year sentence.

Instead, Merritt cut off his ankle monitor and killed his mother, Shirley Merritt, according to police.

He had stolen his mother’s 2009 silver Lexus RX 350, which was found in the early morning hours on Friday, said Frank Lempka, supervisory inspector for the U.S. Marshals Service.

The car held clues, including receipts to various stores and a couple of fliers from a bar, that led authorities to look for Merritt in a specific Nashville neighborhood, Lempka said. When he was spotted and arrested at Southern Thrift Store location, he easily surrendered.

“He basically had the same appearance, except he had his hair longer and he had a beard,” Lempka said. “He was the same physical size.”

Authorities believe that Merritt had been staying with a woman who had no idea who he really was.

“He has a history of taking advantage of people, especially women,” Lempka said, noting that he had spoken to the woman earlier this morning but that authorities are declining to release any additional information about her.

The criminal defense and personal injury lawyer Merritt was convicted on 34 felony counts in January that included theft by taking, elder exploitation and forgery in the first degree, according to court documents.

Merritt stole more than $480,000 in settlement check money from more than a dozen clients between April 2014 and February 2016, according to court records.

On Jan. 29, 2018, the Supreme Court of Georgia accepted Merritt’s voluntary surrender of his law license, which “would be tantamount to disbarment,” according to court records.

Superior Court Judge Robert E. Flournoy, III for the Cobb Judicial Circuit sentenced Merritt to a total of 30 years, with the first 15 years to be served in custody and the remaining 15 years on probation. Merritt was also ordered to pay $454,706 in restitution to his victims.

Merritt posted bond twice since 2017, and his mother put up bond for him one of those time, Lempka said.

On Feb. 2, his mother’s body was found in the dark at the bottom of the basement staircase in her four-bedroom, four-bathroom, cul-de-sac home in DeKalb County, a suburb of Atlanta. She had lacerations to on her side, according to a DeKalb County police report.

A black steak knife handle with a broken off blade was found next to her body. The blade couldn’t be located.

Her body was discovered by one of Merritt’s cousins who had driven from Alabama to Georgia to see Merritt turn himself in.

The cousin had spoken to Shirley Merritt around 8 a.m. the day before, where she said everything was fine and that she was talking to Richard Merritt about surrendering to custody, according to the DeKalb County police report.

The cousin called police after touching Shirley Merritt and realizing she was dead, according to DeKalb County incident report.

He also informed authorities that Richard Merritt had cut off his ankle monitor in Cartersville, Ga.

Merritt is charged on six new felony counts, including murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm or knife, according to court records.

He is currently in custody at Hill Detention Center in Nashville on charges that include a felony and being a fugitive from custody, according to records.

Merritt is expected to be extradited back to Georgia, said DeKalb County Police Sgt. J.D. Spencer, a department spokesman.

He faces up to life in prison if found guilty on the new charges, said Lempka.

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