January 07, 2005
Jury convicts in child abuse
January 7, 2005 [St Cloud Times - Minnesota]
By David Unze
A Stearns County jury Thursday evening convicted a St. Cloud man of two counts of sexual abuse against a child. Joseph C. Merritt faces a possible 12-year prison term when he is sentenced.
He also faces several other charges of sexually abusing other children. Trials on those counts are expected later this year. Merritt, 42, has been in Stearns County Jail in lieu of $75,000 bond.
The children he is accused of abusing ranged in age from 7 to 14 at the time of the abuse.
Prosecutors tried to tell jurors about aggravating factors that could have been used to support a sentence longer than the presumptive 12-year term. Stearns County District Court Judge Skipper Pearson denied that request.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer requires that juries, rather than judges, decide whether the facts of a case are severe enough to warrant a sentence longer than called for in guidelines.
Some of the incidents alleged against Merritt occurred in Hoffman in Grant County, according to criminal complaints. Stearns County sheriff's officials received a complaint about Merritt in January 2004. He was charged that month with one count. The additional counts were filed later after investigators learned of more victims.
Posted by Nancy at January 7, 2005 06:17 AM