Court: Attempted armed robbery led to fatal apartment shooting

Sarah Robinson

Columbus Police said it was an attempted armed robbery that led to the Dec. 16 shooting at Riverwind Apartments that killed one man and seriously wounded another.

Jaleel Kenyard Merritt, 20, and Jacorion Tremayne Gary, 19, pleaded not guilty today in Columbus Recorder's Court to charges stemming from the incident, including murder.

Darecco Navlose Merritt, 25, pleaded not guilty to hindering police from apprehending the suspects, who were allegedly found in a Torch Hill apartment with him Friday night.

Columbus Police Sgt. Joseph Hart said authorities responded to the 1811 Riverland Drive apartment complex on Dec. 16 around 3:45 p.m. after receiving a call about a reported shooting in the area.

When officials arrived on the scene, they found 22-year-old Darwyn Jaleel Taylor of Columbus behind the wheel of a vehicle with multiple gunshot wounds, including at least one to the head. He was pronounced dead on the scene minutes later at 4:28 p.m., Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan said.

Officials said they found Taylor's 24-year-old godbrother suffering from multiple gunshot wounds at a Ramsey Road residence nearby. He was transported to Columbus Midtown Medical Center for emergency treatment but has since been released, police testifed.

The surviving victim told detectives that he received Gary's phone number from a mutual friend and agreed to purchase a gun from him at Columbus department store on Seventh Avenue.

With Taylor serving as the driver, the victims allegedly traveled to the establishment to discuss business with Gary. During the meeting, the price of the weapon was adjusted and the victims left to get more money for the purchase, the detective told the court.

"After that time, they called Jacorion up on the phone again," Hart testified. "He advised that that location was hot, meaning that police were present, and they needed to meet at Riverwind Apartments in the back of the apartment."

Gary allegedly got into the backseat of a vehicle occupied by the victims while the second individual, who officials haven't named, stood outside the car.

According to police, Gary negotiated the price of the gun with the victims but refused to give the older victim the weapon when he asked for it.

Gary pistol-whipped Taylor in the head and then there was a struggle over the gun in which Taylor and his godbrother were shot, police stated in court.

Hart said the older victim was leaving the vehicle when another suspect shot him in his upper right thigh area.

Police found one gun outside of the vehicle and another in the car.

The surviving victim said he was running away from the scene when he spotted Jaleel Merritt driving a gray Honda Civic on Riverland Drive, Hart testified.

"He recognized Jaleel from a previous altercation that occurred several hours earlier," the detective said.

According to police, Jaleel Merritt is Gary's known "criminal associate."

Hart said a special enforcement police officer was behind a former Winn-Dixie on South Lumpkin Road when he heard multiple gunshots. About five to eight minutes later, he spotted a gray Honda Civic drive behind the closed business severals times, pull up close to the woodline and pick up three men who exited the woods, according to police testimony.

"It is believed that those individuals are the ones who fled from the shooting," Hart said.

Police said they collected the phone number used to reach Gary. They spoke with the phone provider, which confirmed that the number was registered to Gary and gave police his address.

Hart told the court that Jaleel Merritt used to live at Riverwind Apartments and his girlfriend owns a gray Honda Civic that the suspect frequently used.

Police obtained warrants for both suspects on one count each of murder, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and two counts of criminal attempt armed robbery.

Jaleel Merritt was convicted Nov. 30, 2013 for crossing the guard lines with weapons, intoxicants, or drugs.

Jacorion Gary was convicted Aug. 19, 2015 for theft by taking.

An investigation led police to hunt for the wanted suspects at a Torch Hill Road residence. Officials announced their presence upon arrival and stated that they had warrants for Jaleel Merritt and Jacorion Gary's arrest, Hart said.

Officials heard a commotion in the home and were able to make entry into the residence about five minutes later, Hart said. Police said they found Darecco Merritt in the residence with the two wanted suspects.

Darecco Merritt admitted to police that he was in the home next to the door when police announced their presence, Hart said.

Officials arrested all three individuals at the home around 9:10 p.m. Friday.

"Based on their interactions at that location, (Darecco Merritt) was charged with hindering the apprehension of two murder suspects," Hart testified. 

Darecco Merritt told the court that his girlfriend lived at the Torch Hill residence, and he was only there to visit her. He said she was out getting food when officials arrived to the apartment.

Merritt said police didn’t announce that they were looking for any suspects before apprehending him at the residence.

The other two suspects didn’t testify in court.

Judge Michael Joyner ordered that all three suspects be held in Muscogee County Jail. Darecco Merritt was granted a $25,000 bond but didn’t set any bonds for the other two suspects.

Police said they are looking for additional suspects but declined to comment on whether they have identified anyone else as a suspect. Information is limited due to the ongoing investigation, Hart added.

Merritt said police didn't announce that they were looking for any suspects before apprehending him at the residence.

The other two suspects didn't testify in court.

Police said they are searching for additional suspects but declined to comment on whether they've identified anyone else as a suspect. Information is limited due to the ongoing investigation, Hart added.

— Sarah is a crime & safety reporter at The Ledger-Enquirer. You can contact her on Twitter at @SarahR_92.