The man who claimed incessant bullying led him to gun down Anthony Wayne Taylor outside the Fort Benning Road Pure Gas Station in 2014 has been sentenced to life in prison.
Judge Arthur Smith III gave Jerry Wayne Merritt that sentence Tuesday after a jury on Feb. 8 found Merritt guilty of murder, aggravated assault and using a firearm to commit a felony in Taylor’s fatal shooting at the 1538 Fort Benning Road station.
Jurors deliberated seven hours before delivering their verdict, rejecting Merritt’s claim that Taylor’s frequent assaults made him so fear for his safety that he had to defend himself the morning of June 6, 2014.
Merritt shot Taylor almost eight hours after Taylor beat him over the head with a metal pipe, splitting his scalp. The attack inside the gas station was captured on surveillance video. The store clerk called police to investigate that incident because Taylor broke an overhead light as he raised the pipe to strike Merritt.
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Merritt that night was armed with a table leg he never got to club Taylor with before Taylor ran away.
During the trial, Merritt’s sister testified that Taylor months earlier punched Merritt unconscious, and had beat him on other occasions.
Defense attorney Jennifer Curry said her client developed “battered person syndrome” similar to victims of repeated family violence, and sincerely believed the abuse would escalate if he did not shoot Taylor.
But that defense was impeded by the intervening hours between Taylor’s beating Merritt inside the gas station around 1:45 a.m. and Merritt’s shooting Taylor outside the business shortly after 9 a.m.
Georgia law says one can use deadly force against another if he “reasonably” believes it’s necessary to defend against “such other’s imminent use of unlawful force.”
“Reasonably” and “imminent” are crucial qualifiers, said prosecutor Wesley Lambertus.
“The key phrase in this is ‘imminent use of force.’ That imminent use of force left at 1:45 in the morning on June 6,” the assistant district attorney said, of Merritt adding, “If he had that gun at that point in time, he would have been justified in protecting himself.”
Taylor used a weapon, a pipe, and hit Merritt hard enough to pose a lethal threat. “I believe he even later made the statement that he feared for his life,” Lambertus said after the trial. “All that put together, a jury would be more apt to come to the conclusion that there’s self defense.”
Merritt was armed with a table leg when Taylor burst into the station and hit him with the pipe. Merritt got up and charged after Taylor, who ran away. Merritt went home and told his sister, and they went out looking for Taylor, but couldn’t find him.
Merritt then got a .32-caliber revolver and returned to the gas station, waiting for Taylor to show up at their regular hangout.
When a cousin dropped Taylor off there to buy cigarettes, Merritt was standing outside by the door. He pulled out the gun, and Taylor turned and ran, circling the station with Merritt chasing him and shooting.
A bullet hit Taylor in the back, piercing his lung and heart. After he staggered across Trask Drive north of the business and collapsed, Merritt walked up and pulled the trigger some more, the empty gun only clicking. Taylor, 44, died later at the hospital.
As Taylor was unarmed, said nothing and ran away, Merritt could not “reasonably” have believed Taylor presented an “imminent” threat, Lambertus said: “There’s no self-defense in this case. There’s no imminent threat of force.”
Curry countered that though hours passed between the assault and shooting, Merritt had not slept, and still was under duress and in self-defense mode. Taylor’s mere approach was enough to spark fear of another attack, she said.
Lambertus earlier filed notice he would ask for a sentence of life without parole because of Merritt’s prior felony convictions. Merritt was convicted of robbery by threat and robbery by injury on May 26, 1992, in Bexar County, Texas, Lambertus said.