Witness says Merritt ‘was on a mission’ in bar slaying — (The Knoxville News Sentinel)

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The Knoxville News Sentinel

Posted: March 23, 2011

By Jamie Satterfield of the Knoxville News Sentinel

During his testimony Tuesday in Knox County Criminal Court, Bill Radcliff demonstrates how he says Herbert Mike Merritt shot Anthony Laymon Ford at Friends Sports Bar and Grill in July 2008.

Herbert Mike Merritt “was on a mission” to get a beer at a neighborhood bar when he shot a fellow patron and later carved a chunk of the slain man’s flesh and took a bite, a witness testified Tuesday.

“There wasn’t anything that was going to stop him from getting a beer,” Douglas Statzer testified in Knox County Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz’s courtroom. “He looked like a man determined to do what he had to do to have a beer, like he was on a mission.”

Merritt is standing trial on a first-degree murder charge in the June 2008 slaying of Anthony Laymon “Tony” Ford, 45, inside the Friends Sports Bar & Grill in Halls. Merritt’s attorney, Phil Lomonaco, contends that his client was in a psychotic state after failing to take his medicine, evidenced by the fact that Merritt carved a chunk of Ford’s chest to eat. Prosecutor Kyle Hixson counters that Merritt was angry after a spat with his girlfriend and spoiling for a fight.

Statzer testified that Merritt hugged him when he walked in but grew angry and defiant when Statzer reminded him that he had been barred from the bar for brandishing a knife.

“Mike said he wanted a (expletive) beer, and he wanted a (expletive) beer right now,” Statzer said.

Susie Jacobs, an off-duty employee sitting next to Ford at the bar, said she told Merritt, whom bar patrons already had dubbed “Mad Max,” to leave. When Ford and others came to her side as Merritt refused, Merritt flung off his leather jacket, whipped out a gun and shot Ford, she said.

As bar patrons scattered, Statzer said Merritt turned to him and repeated his demand for a beer. Statzer said he grabbed a brew from the bartender and gave it to Merritt, who left but quickly returned with a shotgun.

Statzer managed to talk his way out of the bar, leaving Merritt and Ford behind.

As Merritt holed up in the bar and Knox County Sheriff’s Office’s SWAT team surrounded it, Friends employee Tina Ellison phoned the business to check on the bartender. Merritt answered, she said.

“I said, ‘Why did you do that?’ ” she said of shooting Ford. “He said he was mad at his girlfriend.”

Ellison said she begged Merritt to drag Ford’s body to the door so he could be rescued and get help.

“He said it was too late,” she said. “He told me he was trying to cut (Ford’s) heart out.”

Ford was shot six times, slashed and stabbed. The “heart” Merritt nibbled on was actually a fist-sized chunk of flesh, the remains of which Merritt left on the bar.

Jamie Satterfield may be reached at 865-342-6308. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/jamiescoop.

 

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STATE OF TENNESSEE v. HERBERT MICHAEL MERRITT — (COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TENNESSEE AT KNOXVILLE)

May 15, 2012 Session

Direct Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 91370 Mary Beth Leibowitz, Judge
No. E2011-01348-CCA-R3-CD – Filed March 22, 2013

A Knox County Grand Jury returned an indictment against Defendant, Herbert Michael Merritt, charging him with premeditated first degree murder and employing a firearm during a dangerous felony. Following a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder… Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Dr. LeBuffe testified that he saw Defendant at least once a month from 2002 until 2005 at the Comprehensive Community Care, which was a clinic for individuals with “dual diagnosis: psychiatric problems and chemical dependencies.” He explained that Defendant had a number of co-occurring conditions, which consisted of “a mood disorder, probably bipolar disorder; posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD]; some cognitive disorder due to brain injuries; and chemical dependencies.” Defendant was taking a number of antidepressant medications, most of which was a combination of Wellbutrin and Lexapro. He was also on mood stabilizers and antipsychotic drugs. Defendant was on Seroquel for years and on Zyprexa for a short time. He had also been prescribed Gabitril and Gabapentin.

Dr. LeBuffe noted that Defendant had a history of seeing demons and frightening apparitions, which began in childhood and continued into adulthood. Defendant would also hear voices; “sometimes threatening, sometimes it would be like just a babble of voices.” Dr. LeBuffe explained that Defendant’s hallucinations would “get better and worse with medication.”

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.