The last witness to testify Tuesday at Jerry Wayne “Scarface” Merritt’s sentencing for murder was Merritt himself.
Facing life in prison for fatally shooting Anthony “Red” Taylor outside the Fort Benning Road Pure Gas Station in 2014, Merritt claimed he didn’t mean to.
“I really didn’t mean to kill Red,” he said, later elaborating, “I meant to scare him and teach him a lesson. ... The last bullet accidentally hit him in back.”
That was around 9 a.m. on June 6, 2014, almost eight hours after Taylor burst into the Pure station and bludgeoned Merritt with a metal pipe, splitting his scalp. Merritt had a table leg to use as a club but never got to hit Taylor with it, as Taylor turned and ran away.
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Merritt later got a .32-caliber revolver and returned to the 1538 Fort Benning Road station where he and Taylor regularly hung out drinking and smoking crack – as they had been that night – to await Taylor’s arrival.
Witnesses said that when a cousin dropped Taylor off there to buy cigarettes, Merritt was waiting outside by the door. Neither man said anything as Taylor turned and ran, and Merritt chased him around the building and across nearby Trask Drive, firing.
Some witnesses said that when Taylor fell wounded, Merritt walked up to him and kept pulling the trigger, though the gun was empty.
“I swear that didn’t happen,” Merritt told the court Tuesday.
His testimony followed that of a defense expert in trauma and battered persons syndrome, an affliction associated with domestic abuse. That expert, Dr. Marti Loring, said the relationship between Merritt and Taylor was akin to a partnership.
“They were kind of like a couple,” she said, testifying that Merritt was like an abused spouse who tolerated mistreatment as long as the abuser apologized.
She said also that Merritt as a child was sexually abused and nearly starved, and he was bullied when he was in school. He had depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and “he self-medicates,” she said of his drug use.
In the end, her testimony in mitigation for what Taylor did was for naught: Judge Arthur Smith III sentenced Merritt to life in prison without parole for murder, plus five years for using a firearm to commit a crime.
Smith pointed out the hours-long interval between Taylor’s striking Merritt with the pipe and Merritt’s shooting Taylor in the back.
Instead of getting a gun, Merritt could have called the police to have Taylor arrested, Smith said.
“He did not have to get a gun,” the judge said. “Mr. Merritt had options, and chose the deadly option when he had legal options available to him.”
This will not be Merritt’s first prison stint. In asking for life without parole, prosecutor Wesley Lambertus cited Merritt’s previous convictions in Bexar County, Texas, where on May 26, 1992, he was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison for robbery by threat and for robbery by injury.
His defense attorney, Jennifer Curry, said Merritt served most of that time in solitary confinement – not because he misbehaved, but because he was paranoid and needed isolation.
Lambertus called Merritt “a cold, selfish man” who acted in “cold revenge” when he ambushed Taylor.
“Chaos” would rule the streets if everyone who acted as Merritt did was given a lighter sentence on such weak justification, Lambertus said: “There’s no justification in this case.”
Also testifying Tuesday were members of Taylor’s family.
His wife Valencia Taylor said she’s the mother of four daughters and four sons and now has 14 grandchildren. Losing her husband caused a financial burden, cutting the family income by half, she said.
The family feels his loss at every gathering, such as his children’s high school and college graduations, and the birth of a grandchild born prematurely, now 16 months old.
That child was daughter Connie Mayo’s. “Losing our father felt like someone had torn our hearts right out of our chests,” she told the court.
She said her premature infant was a “miracle baby” who weighed only a pound at birth and spent 117 days in the hospital. She needed her father to help her through that ordeal, she said.
The family described Taylor as a handyman who “could do anything.” His widow said he had been working on rental property and a church right before he died.
Testifying on Merritt’s behalf was his sister Pamela Merritt, who like her brother apologized to the Taylors from the witness stand.
She said Taylor was a “sweet man” when sober, but not when he was impaired.
“Red gets aggressive when he gets high,” she said, calling his behavior “beefed up.”
It was common for Merritt, Taylor and others to gather at the gas station to smoke crack and drink, she said: “Every other day the police was running them away from that store.”
On her brother’s behalf, she told Smith: “I know he deserves some time … but at least allow him some parole.” Of the murder, she said, “I am so sorry it happened like that.”