Judge denies Merrill motion for pre-trial release

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Former Green Mountain Middle School teacher Norman Merrill will remain in jail after Federal District Judge Christina Reiss in Burlington held a hearing on his “motion to revoke detention order,” then denied it last Thursday.

Northwest Correctional Facility where Merrill is being held.

The motion, brought by defense attorney Devin McLaughlin, asserted that the detention order by Magistrate Judge Kevin Doyle at Merrill’s arraignment on May 23 was “legally improper.” He asserted that there was “no chancethat the alleged conduct could continue because Merrill’s children would not be in his house and thus no friends of his children would visit. From this, he argued there was “literally zero opportunity for commission of further crimes.”

Merrill was arrested on May 19 on an indictment charging Merrill with production of child sexual abuse material, attempted production of child sexual abuse material and possession of child sexual abuse material. If convicted of all charges, Merrill faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years of imprisonment and a maximum sentence of 30 years of imprisonment.

McLaughlin also pointed to the Two Rivers Supervisory Union apprising parents and students of the charges against Merrill as well as the publicity that the case has received as evidence that “there is no way that any minor child will be in Mr. Merrill’s home during the pendency of this proceeding.”

In the motion, McLaughlin stated that Doyle correctly found that Merrill was not a flight risk, which is one of two standards that go into deciding whether to hold a defendant, but asserted that the government failed to provide convincing evidence that the safety of the community or any person can’t be protected by conditions of release.

McLaughlin wrote that among the items that argue against Merrill being a danger to the community were his living alone, that no children would visit him, that he would give the government access to his WiFi security camera to monitor who comes and goes from his house and that he would agree to monitoring of any computer he was allowed to retain by Pretrial Services.

In a response in opposition to Merrill’s motion, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan A. Ophardt revealed that, “A number of parents from New England have contacted the government and law enforcement with concerns their children may have been subjected to Merrill’s voyeuristic activities and child pornography production.”

He went on to say that “some of these parents have also relayed concerns regarding Merrill’s relationship with their children, and one in particular noted that their child appeared more concerned with Merrill’s well being than their own potential victimization. These odd comments by the child made the parent concerned that Merrill had engaged in ‘grooming’ behavior during his interactions with the child.”

Ophardt wrote that “the weight of the evidence against defendant Merrill is overwhelming. This is not a case of ambiguous intent by a voyeuristic videographer that surepticiously (sic) recorded all users of a locker room or tanning salon…(he) is easily identifiable on multiple videos while placing the cameras in the bathroom, and adjusting the angle of the lens to best capture depictions of the victims’ genitalia. Finally, the devices and related electronics were discovered in defendant Merrill’s residence, some stored in a safe with important personal documents.”

Referring to the conditions of release that would be used to limit Merrill’s ability to continue the alleged conduct if released, Ophardt wrote that, “Merrill will interact with the community at the supermarket, at the pharmacy, at gas stations, in convenience stores, and other locations of daily life. These are places where children will be present, where his former students may encounter him, and where defendant Merrill may seek to engage in additional surrepticious (sic) voyeuristic behavior.”

“No combination of conditions of release can adequately protect the community, in particular minor children, from the danger posed by defendant Merrill should he be released. For that reason, the government requests that the Court deny the motion,” concluded Ophardt.

Judge Reiss apparently agreed with the government as she denied the motion and sent Merrill back to the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans to await trial.

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