Brothers admit guilt in 2 deaths; shooter ‘acted with an evil heart’

Two brothers who for nearly 20 months had maintained their innocence in the shooting deaths of two people pleaded guilty on Wednesday, but a prosecutor said he still can’t explain why the victims were killed.

Brothers Dustin and Bret Merrick avoided a possible death penalty by pleading guilty in the January 2017 shooting deaths of William “Skip” Brown and Sherri Mendenhall in Bath Twp. just outside of Yellow Springs. Brown and Mendenhall were neighbors.

RELATED: Greene County double-murder defendant not initially considered a suspect

Greene County Prosecutor Stephen K. Haller told the Dayton Daily News that he knows the victims’ families want to know why it happened. He wishes he could answer that for them.

“Our view is that the shooter, Dustin, acted with an evil heart. There’s no good explanation. He just hated Skip, and I can’t tell you why. Any kind of motive just doesn’t make sense in the light of day,” he said.

Dustin Merrick, 27, pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and murder among other lesser charges and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole as part of a plea agreement with the Greene County Prosecutor’s Office.

Bret Merrick, 25, pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to serve 25 years in prison.

Both changed their pleas and were sentenced during hearings in Judge Michael Buckwalter’s courtroom.

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Dustin, who worked for Brown, brought his brother with him to Brown’s apartment during the early morning hours of Jan. 15, 2017. Dustin Merrick sneaked into the apartment and shot Brown in his bedroom; Mendenhall, Brown’s neighbor and close friend, heard the commotion and went to investigate, according to a release from Haller.

Mendenhall encountered the brothers and tried to run, but she was gunned down by Dustin Merrick “in order to silence her as a potential witness,” according to Haller.

Dustin Merrick smiled through the hearing Wednesday and, when he had opportunities, he looked at his family members and smiled wider. 

Haller said Dustin Merrick’s demeanor has been the same since his arrest in the days following the double-murder. Haller said Dustin Merrick didn’t have a criminal past and there was nothing in his background to explain what he did or why he doesn’t appear to have any remorse.

“A depraved individual. He shouldn’t be allowed on the street,” Haller said.

Buckwalter allowed Dustin Merrick to address the court. His seven-word statement is as perplexing as the crime for which he was convicted.

“All my pauses indicate dot dot dot,” Dustin Merrick said.

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Members of the victims’ families addressed the court and the defendants prior to their sentencing.

Mendenhall’s oldest son, John Skinner, paused a few times to wipe away tears as he spoke.

“I’m sad that she was robbed of the joy of seeing her family grow around her. Those moments that she cherished the most, the grandkids’ ball games, the dance recitals, the high school graduation,” Skinner said. “She lived her life for those moments, and it’s shameful that they were taken from her.”

Skinner said his mother’s slaying has changed him and his entire family.

“I just can’t stop thinking about what she went through … Just the fear and the helplessness that she felt as she was running for her life,” he said. “There’s just a hole in my soul.”

Brown’s father Larry Brown also gave an emotional speech prior to sentencing.

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“We’ve had to wait for answers we still don’t have,” Larry Brown said. “I feel sad because of the many people that will not ever know Skip and benefit from his true friendship or his ability to support, motivate and inspire … His death is a huge loss for Yellow Springs, Greene County and the surrounding area.”

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