Merritt pleads no contest in 2012 shooting at convenience store

Two months after being released from jail because of a trial date error, Michael Merritt went back to jail Tuesday after pleading no contest to his involvement in a 2012 shooting.

Deputy Prosecutor Rik Ramsey said Merritt, 20, pleaded no contest to charges of criminal attempt capital murder and aggravated robbery stemming from the shooting of a clerk at the A & Y Shell Station at 3110 Camden Road on Oct. 18, 2012.

Circuit Judge Berlin C. Jones sentenced Merritt to 20 years in prison on each count with the sentences to run concurrently with each other, Ramsey said.

In September, Jones granted a motion filed by Merritt’s attorney Bill Luppen and released Merritt, who had been held on a $250,000 cash-only bond since his arrest, because Merritt had not been brought to trial within nine months.

When Merritt was released, Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter said the state still intended to try the case, and that trial had been set for next week in First Division Circuit Court.

Merritt was arrested a day after Haidem Shah, a clerk at the store, was shot multiple times during a robbery attempt, with surveillance video showing Shah being shot by a male, who then went around the counter and when he was unable to get the cash register open, shot Shah again before leaving the store in an easterly direction.

Shah was in critical condition after the shooting but has since recovered.

A day after the shooting, an off-duty police officer who was in the area of the store and had seen the surveillance video saw Merritt, who was wearing the same type of tennis shoes as the suspect in the video.

After Merritt was arrested, police served a search warrant at an apartment on Union Street and recovered clothing and a hat that matched the suspect and a gun, which Ramsey said the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory linked to the shooting of Shah.

Ramsey said Merritt said that at the time of the shooting, he was with friends at Walmart, but they denied that he was with them.

“His alibi was not going to hold up,” said Ramsey, who with Deputy Prosecutor Cymber Gieringer represented the state Tuesday and were prepared to go to trial if Merritt changed his mind.

“He walked into the courtroom and walked out in handcuffs,” Ramsey said. “The state is very happy with the plea and the 20-year sentence on two Class Y felonies.”

A Class Y felony, non-capital, is punishable by 10 to 40 years or life in prison.