Court: 'Friends' fought before Fort Benning Road shooting

Family members say Anthony "Red" Wayne Taylor and Jerry "Scarface" Wayne Merritt were best friends, meeting daily at the Pure gas station. But after Taylor assaulted Merritt with a metal pipe, Merritt waited with a gun for Taylor's return to the Fort Benning Road business, according to court testimony.

Merritt, 47, pleaded not guilty to murder, possession of a gun during the commission of a crime and possession of a gun by a convicted felon charges during a Monday afternoon Recorder's Court hearing.

Columbus Police Department's Sgt. Jeff Bridges told the court police arrived at the 1600 Fort Benning Road shooting around 9:15 a.m. There, they found Taylor lying beneath the Valley Healthcare System sign at 1600 Fort Benning Road. He was transported to Midtown Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead of a single gunshot wound to the back at 10:01 a.m.

Several witnesses told police they watched a man, later determined to be Merritt, chase Taylor through the parking lot while firing several rounds from a silver revolver, Bridges said.

While interviewing witnesses, Merritt approached officers near the crime scene and said, "I'm the one you're looking for." He was promptly tackled to the ground, where he was handcuffed and led to a patrol car. Ledger-Enquirer reporters on scene witnessed Merritt yelling "I turn myself in" during the arrest.

Five witnesses later positively identified Merritt as the shooter, Bridges told the court.

After transporting Merritt for questioning, officers returned Merritt to the scene where he led police to the murder weapon, which was stashed at a nearby apartment complex, Bridges said.

Police say Merritt and Taylor met daily at the gas station, but their relationship was rife with confrontation. Several witnesses claimed that Taylor "picked on" Merritt, and that the confrontation at Pure Gas Station led to the shooting.

Around 1:40 a.m., Friday, Taylor hit Merritt in the head with a metal pipe inside the Pure Gas Station store. The confrontation, during which Merritt carried a big stick, was caught on the store's surveillance camera, Bridges said.

After the fight, Merritt returned to his home, grabbed a gun and waited for Taylor to return to the store, police said. He began his stake-out at about 3:00 a.m.

According to an earlier Ledger-Enquirer report, Merritt was charged with aggravated battery after he stabbed a man in his lower back, shoulder and both thighs outside the gas station in December.

Judge Mary Buckner set no bond on Merritt's murder charge. A $27,500 bond was set for Merritt's remaining charges.

The victim's niece, Miniah Merritt, told the Ledger-Enquirer after the hearing that Taylor had been bullying her uncle for at least a year before the shooting took place. She claims Taylor cut her uncle with a machete the week before the shooting. These incidents largely were not reported to police because Merritt "did not want to be a snitch."

"I just put it in God's hands," Miniah said. "The situation, someone was going to lose, because it was a bullying situation. I just want to say, if anyone out there is feeling bullied, an adult or a child, talk to someone because you're never too old to be bullied. Because that's what happened to my uncle, he was being bullied and he got fed up."

Pamela Merritt, the victim's sister, said she knew Taylor well and that he was "a sweet person," but said he often attempted to dominate a group of men who frequented Pure Gas Station.

"Red is not a bad person," Pamela said. "It's just a fact that he never hits my brother until he's drinking or get on drugs."

Pamela said Merritt feared Taylor would take his life due to frequent assaults, often started by arguments over crack cocaine.

"If y'all are all dope friends, y'all should be able to get along," Pamela said. "If you want to be smoke buddies, smoke as long as you want to smoke, but don't fight because it's all gone."