Reporting Mike Hellgren
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A Johns Hopkins researcher was killed while on the phone with his mother. Now one of the accused could get reduced time in prison.
Mike Hellgren explains the legal move that has many upset.
The state’s attorney’s decision to drop murder charges against Lavelva Merritt in exchange for her testimony against her co-defendant is sparking outrage in Charles Village. Police say Merritt and her partner John Wagner plotted to rob and attack Johns Hopkins researcher Stephen Pitcairn as he walked down Saint Paul Street last July.
“She should be held accountable because she was with him when it all happened,” said Laura Moore, who works nearby.
“I thought it was a little ridiculous. They were in it together so they should get the same sentence, it seems like,” said neighbor Alex Pirtle.
They say Wagner stabbed him in the heart and Merritt punched him in the face and stole his iPhone, leaving him in the gutter.
Merritt will get 30 years in the deal, half of it suspended. She’ll face tough questions on the stand.
“You try to make me look like this liar who will sell out. Isn’t it true you’re going against your former lover just to save your neck?” said law professor Byron Warnken.
The murder stunned the community. Particularly troubling was Wagner’s history of falling through the cracks of the criminal justice system. Police say he was caught on tape robbing someone just weeks before the killing and violated probation four times but spent no time behind bars.
Community leaders like Frank Richardson want to make sure no one escapes justice this time.
“I thought that they would be in it together. I was told both were responsible for the outcome, for the death,” Richardson said. “Really, we just can’t let it fall through.”
Wagner still faces life in prison.
Merritt gave a videotaped statement detailing her involvement in the crime.