Death penalty to be sought for man accused of hiding body in garage

Jimmy Merritt beat man with hammer, fatally shot another, police say

ORLANDO, Fla. – Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala will seek the death penalty against a man accused of beating a man to death with a hammer, then hiding the body in his garage and fatally shooting a neighbor, a representative from Ayala's office said Wednesday.

The case against Jimmy Merritt, 38, will be the second time Ayala's office has decided to pursue capital punishment since establishing the seven-attorney death penalty review panel in September.

Ayala said earlier this year that her office would not seek the death penalty in any case her office tries, but she amended that stance after losing a legal battle with Gov. Rick Scott.

Merritt was arrested Oct. 24, four days after his neighbor, Benny Clyde Hallmark, 64, was found fatally shot in a reclining chair at his home on 3103 Lauressa Lane, according to authorities.

Police said they immediately considered Merritt to be a suspect in that case because he had recently cashed one of Hallmark's checks.

During the course of the investigation, authorities learned that Merritt had told witnesses that he had another body hidden in the backyard of his home at 3008 Lauressa Lane.

Police said they found the badly decomposed body of 60-year-old Billy Wayne Deaton wrapped in plastic and blankets under a large pile of wood and other items from the garage, according to a news release. 

Merritt told police that he beat Deaton to death with a hammer because he didn't like the way Deaton was talking to him and treating him, according to an arrest affidavit.

Police have not provided a motive in Hallmark's death.

Court records show that a grand jury on Wednesday indicted Merritt on first-degree murder in connection with Hallmark's death. A notice to seek the death penalty has also been filed, according to Ayala's spokeswoman.

Merritt is facing a second-degree murder charge in connection with Deaton's death, which is not a capital offense.

The death penalty review panel unanimously decided that capital punishment would be appropriate in Merritt's case.

The other potential capital punishment case Ayala's office is against Emerita Mapp, who is accused of fatally stabbing a man at a Kissimmee hotel. The office missed a 45-day deadline to file a notice to seek death in that case, but Ayala has said her office is prepared to litigate that issue.

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