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Nationwide manhunt underway for disbarred attorney accused of killing his mother

Richard Merritt (US Marshals Service)

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — A nationwide manhunt is underway for a disbarred Georgia attorney accused of killing his mother.

Richard Merritt was sentenced to 15 years in prison and 15 years of probation after being convicted of stealing money from his clients, and elder abuse. The court found him guilty on more than 30 counts of theft, forgery and elder exploitation.

He was given until 5 p.m. on Feb. 1 to get his affairs in order before turning himself in.

Instead, officials with the US Marshals Service said he cut off his ankle monitor and fled.

The day after Merritt was supposed to surrender, his mother, Shirley Merritt, was found violently killed. Her car was missing, while Merritt’s vehicle was found at the scene, the US Marshals Service said in a statement.

“The vehicle he may be driving is a 2009 silver Lexus RX350, bearing a Georgia tag CBV 6004,” the US Marshal Service’s statement said. “He may have shaved his head or otherwise changed his appearance, and should be considered armed and dangerous. Do not try to engage him. If you see Merritt, please contact law enforcement immediately.”

Merritt admitted to settling civil lawsuits on his clients’ behalf without their knowledge, forging signatures on settlement checks and documents and keeping money intended for his clients, the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

“The victims came to him for help, and he helped himself instead,” Senior Assistant District Attorney Jason Marbutt said. “People ought to be able to trust their lawyer. When a lawyer lies, it has ripple effects on the entire system.”

Merritt was also ordered to pay $454,706 in restitution to his clients.

“Some of his client-victims were pursuing medical malpractice claims and are now further injured financially because of Merritt’s crimes and abuse,” the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office said. “Some other victims are elderly. Merritt lied to the victims, leading them to believe he was still pursuing their legal claims. Meanwhile, he was spending the unauthorized settlement funds on lavish vacations and a Porsche.”

CNN reached out to the lawyer representing Merritt in his initial conviction for comment, but has not yet received a response.

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