Jury Convicts Michael Merrifield in Putnam County, WV Murder Case

From today’s Charleston Daily Mail:

Jurors find Michael Merrifield guilty

by Cheryl Caswell
Daily Mail staff

WINFIELD – After little more than one day of deliberations, a jury has found Michael Merrifield guilty of the murder of 2-year-old Logan Goodall.

They also found Merrifield, 32, guilty of causing the death of a child as a parent or guardian and guilty of sexual abuse by a parent or guardian. They found him not guilty of first-degree sexual assault.

Jurors did not recommend mercy, so the first-degree murder charge carries a life sentence.

Watch video of the verdict being read here
An attorney for Michael Merrifield had told jurors during his closing argument that other people should have been suspects in the 2005 death of the Putnam County toddler.

Ed Rebrook, who along with Mike Clifford has represented Merrifield in his first-degree murder trial, implored jurors to remember there was no direct evidence to link Merrifield with the child’s injuries or death.

And Rebrook again raised the question he has brought up several times during the trial – that Michael’s brother was suspect.

“Where was Patrick Merrifield?” Rebrook asked. “We know he had access to the child. He refused to testify. You have (Logan’s mother) Pepper Eren, you have Michael Merrifield and you have Patrick Merrifield.

“All three suspects were in the house in the time range the physicians have given us for when death occurred.”

Three witnesses, including another medical examiner called in by the state Wednesday, said Logan bled to death from a liver laceration and it could have taken several hours.

“The state wants you through a process of elimination to see that Michael Merrifield did it,” Rebrook said. “That is not what you agreed to do when you agreed to serve on this jury.”

The jury began deliberating Wednesday and continued today.

Conspicuously absent from the courtroom Wednesday for closing arguments were the defendant’s parents, Dr. John and Diane Merrifield, who have sat directly behind their son for the entire trial in Putnam Circuit Court.

The Merrifields were believed to be with Patrick, who reportedly had been admitted to Charleston Area Medical Center.

An operator at CAMC said no information could be given out about Patrick Merrifield. His attorney, Jim Cagle, also would not answer questions.

Patrick was subpoenaed by the defense but invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify because he didn’t want to incriminate himself.

Frequently during the trial, the defense had pointed out that Logan, while in the care of Michael Merrifield, also spent a lot of time with Patrick.

In his closing statements, Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia asked the jury to find Michael guilty and grant him no mercy.

The former boyfriend of Logan’s mother, Michael is accused of sexually assaulting, abusing and killing Logan on Sept. 6, 2005.

“Do not recommend mercy,” Sorsaia said. “There is none. Don’t give it to him. This is the man who abused this child, causing his death.”

Sorsaia displayed photographs of the dead child while he spoke to jurors. Melissa Eren, the boy’s grandmother, openly wept, and many others in the courtroom cried and dabbed their eyes.

The prosecutor reiterated to the jury the many injuries the boy sustained, including multiple bruises and cuts, and told them no one else could have inflicted them. He said Michael had abused and tortured the boy for months.

“On the 6th of September his body gave up and sought refuge in death. He did not have the benefit of a loving mother or father with him, or a compassionate caregiver to help him.

“He died alone, in the presence of the man over there, who is responsible for killing him,” Sorsaia told them.

But Rebrook told jurors they couldn’t fairly jump to the conclusion that Michael abused or killed the boy. Instead, he reminded them of testimony from witnesses who said Michael loved Logan and provided care for him that his mother did not.

Sorsaia said the toddler wanted nothing but love but got only pain and hurt in his life.

“No matter how hard that little boy worked at being good, he got hurt,” he said. “Children have nothing but love to give, even when someone hurts them.”

Sorsaia reminded the jury of all the stories Michael told of how the child was injured.

“He told everyone at the hospital he loved the child, but the nurses were too smart,” Sorsaia told them. “They noticed he did not have any tears.

“All three paramedics were suspicious. The nurses were suspicious,” he said.

But Rebrook told the jury that medical professionals can jump to the wrong conclusion. He told them his wife once fell down the steps in their home and cut her head. He said he took her to the hospital and was surprised when health care professionals suspected abuse.

“They said to her, ‘He did this to you, didn’t he?’ ” Rebrook recounted.

“I tell you that to tell you in this world there is injustice,” Rebrook said.

Rebrook said that if the child was being hurt and abused, family members would have known it.

“If you hurt a child, they are going to tell someone,” he said. “If Michael Merrifield had burned that child, don’t you think the child would have told his grandparents? Don’t you think he would have said, ‘Michael did this to me?’ ”

Rebrook said he thought Michael might have caused the boy’s death in his desperate attempts to revive him the day he died.

According to court records and witness statements, Michael repeatedly told police Logan had started having a seizure and he squeezed and hit him on the back to revive him.

“But I don’t think he murdered him,” Rebrook said.

“My client has been in jail for more than two years,” he said. “I ask you to set him free.”

Note: Examine the last three sentences of the article. The defense attorney posits the theory that his client may have accidentally killed the child in his attempts to resuscitate. I have heard this used before in infant abuse murder cases. This is a classic decision for a jury: is the medical evidence and other evidence in the case consistent with this theory? Evidently the jury found that it was not. The defense attorney also states after positing the theory, “But I don’t think he murdered him.” This is unique. Usually it is not appropriate for the defense attorney to give an opinion as to personal belief to the jury, only to argue on behalf of the client. But, who is going to complain? Certainly not the prosecutor, because the guy was convicted. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia criminal defense attorney.

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