Merrill pleads not guilty, ordered to remain in custody

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

Northwest Correctional Facility where Merrill is being held.

Appearing in prison-issued clothing and a surgical mask from a visiting room at Northwest Correctional Facility in St. Albans, Norman Merrill, 45, of Chester, this afternoon entered a plea of not guilty before federal Judge Kevin Doyle, who was in Burlington via video conference.

Doyle then went on to weigh whether Merrill was a flight risk or a danger to the safety of the community before granting the government’s motion to hold him until trial.

Merrill, a Green Mountain middle school teacher who was arrested Thursday on a three-count indictment alleging that he secretly recorded minor girls in “sexually explicit conduct” at his Chester home, was represented by Devin McLaughlin of Langrock Sperry & Wool. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Waples represented the government in the absence of his colleague, Jonathan Ophardt, who will be prosecuting the case.

Doyle read the indictment to Merrill and asked for a plea, which McLaughlin entered. Doyle went on to set the deadline for pre-trial motions for Monday, Aug. 22 — or 90 days from today. This is the time allowed for the defense to review the government’s evidence and decide on any motions it would want to file in court.

Waples told the court that there is a lot of electronic evidence and the “unpeeling process has barely begun.” Doyle referred to the goverment’s evidence as “voluminous.”

“There’s a lot of forensic evidence that the government has to process, to make available to the defense,” said Waples. “That’s a time-consuming process.” Waples noted that the time-frame in the indictment (2019 to 2022) is quite broad and that processing the evidence will sharpen those dates.

The final decision required this afternoon was on the government’s motion to hold Merrill before trial. That required the judge to look at whether Merrill is a flight risk and whether he poses a danger to the community.

McLaughlin noted that Merrill has lived in Vermont for 24 years, owns a home and, even after that house was searched on May 11, “he did not run. He did what he was supposed to do.”

Regarding safety to the community, McLaughlin said that — due to the presence of the media — Merrill had to tread lightly because of the sensitivity of the information that is “not related to the public, but unfortunately related to minor members of his family.” McLaughlin said that the court could order conditions that would be sufficient to keep minors away from Merrill, but he noted that in the real world those conditions already exist.

The Federal Courthouse in Burlington

“Both mothers are aware of the allegations, both mothers have filed relief from abuse proceedings,” said McLaughlin,  saying that these won’t be contested by Merrill, so that the mother’s request in Connecticut has already been granted and the one in Vermont is expected to be as well. He also said that there has been press coverage that has alerted the community to the charges and that the superintendent of schools has alerted families that Merrill has been indicted on the charges. Merrill has three children from his first marriage and a stepchild from his second.

Waples said that over the weekend police identified a minor who was not a family member in one of the pictures or videos.

“The offense extends to outside the four corners of the family,” said Waples.

In the end, Doyle believed that probation authorities would not be able to monitor Merrill sufficiently to guarantee that no minors might be coming to his home, tipping the balance toward continued detention.

“I do find today that the government has sustained its burden by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Merrill presents a danger to the community for which no conditions could be set,” Doyle said.



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  1. Rebecca white says:

    Thank you judge!