Couple plead guilty to abuse in son’s death

Date: 2008-02-28
Source: examiner.com

Couple plead guilty to abuse in son’s death

Feb 26, 2008 2:00 AM
by Matthew Santoni, The Examiner

BALTIMORE (Map, News) - A Harford County couple pleaded guilty to first-degree child abuse Monday in the death of their 8-year-old adopted son, who collapsed and died from what investigators ruled starvation.

Samuel and Donna Merryman, of Whiteford, each faces a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in the Jan. 22, 2005, death of their adopted son, Dennis.

In exchange for the plea, prosecutors will drop charges of second-degree murder and four counts of child abuse.

Diane Tobin, an assistant state’s attorney, said Dennis was 3-foot-4-inches tall at his death, but weighed only 37 pounds, 2 pounds less than his weight when he was adopted at age 4.

“This kind of weight was far below the normal scale for a child of his age and height,” Tobin said. Dennis weighed as little as 36 pounds when he last saw a doctor in October 2001, she said.

“It amounted to cruel and inhumane treatment,” Tobin said.

The trial before Judge Emory Plitt began in mid-January but was delayed after only a few days of testimony by scheduling conflicts and medical problems that left Samuel Merryman in too much pain to sit through his own trial. He hobbled into the courtroom Monday on crutches.

Plitt walked Samuel and Donna through the technicalities and the proceedings they were waiving by pleading guilty, to which each replied, “Yes, sir” or “No, sir.” A dozen observers waited for hours to see the plea but declined to comment afterward.

A sentencing hearing for both will begin April 14.

Defense attorneys Andrew Alperstein and Craig Kadish said they would be calling friends, family members and doctors to testify. The Merrymans will remain under house arrest until they are sentenced, Plitt said.

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