Merryman kids’ fate uncertain after their parents’ conviction

Date: 2008-04-22

Merryman kids’ fate uncertain after their parents’ conviction

Matthew Santoni, The Examiner
2008-04-22 07:00:00.0

BALTIMORE - Samuel and Donna Merryman said in court last week they did not take their son to a doctor for three and a half years because they feared treatment for his physical and behavioral problems would break up the close-knit family.

But prosecutors said “the close-knit family” was more like a prison for 8-year-old Dennis and his six siblings, who rarely interacted with the world beyond their home and their church until he died of starvation in January 2005.

“They used their own children to participate in Dennis’ abuse, then to participate in a cover-up when he died,” Assistant State’s Attorney Diane Tobin said. “Dennis, by dying, saved those other children.”

The Merryman children — three biological and three adopted from Russia with Dennis — have been in foster care since their parents were indicted in 2005. Now officials are “waiting for the dust to settle” before determining the children’s long-term placement, said Jerry Reyerson, director of the Harford County Department of Social Services.

The children, now ages 13 to 17, have been getting regular follow-ups with court-appointed special advocates and attending counseling, Reyerson said.

“Considering what these kids went through and the situation they came from, they’re all doing well,” he said.

In February, the couple pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death, in exchange for the state dismissing murder charges for Dennis and abuse charges connected to the other children.

During the sentencing hearing last week, one of the older daughters described how, at her parents’ urging, she helped strap Dennis’ hands behind his back and secure him in a crib each night.

But defense attorney Andrew Alperstein said the Merrymans asked that their daughter not be cross-examined, letting her version of events stand rather than put her through more questioning.

Reyerson said Social Services would determine over the next few months whether there are relatives who could provide a suitable, long-term home for the children. Future court hearings will determine how and when the children could visit their parents in prison.


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