Police: Man arrested after bodies found in recliner, hidden in backyard

Jimmy Merritt charged with first-degree murder

By Adrienne Cutway - Web Editor, Vanessa Araiza - Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Authorities found a badly decomposed body hidden in a backyard while investigating the case of a man who was found dead in a reclining chair at a nearby home, according to the Orlando Police Department.

The Orlando Fire Department was called to a home at 3103 Lauressa Lane around 11:15 a.m. Friday and found Benny Clyde Hallmark, 64, dead in a reclining chair. Police said his death was a homicide by firearm.

"My little brother, he was on fire for the Lord. And it got him in trouble," said Hallmark's brother, Larry Vaughn.

Vaughn told News 6 he got concerned after he didn't hear back from him last week.  The two talk everyday by phone since Vaughn lives in Alabama. 

"My little brother helped everybody out. I don't care how bad you was. He just, he's probably looking down at us right now and grinnin'," Vaughn said. 

Jimmy Merritt, 37, was identified as a suspect in Hallmark's death because he had stolen the victim's checks and attempted to cash them, a news release said. 

Detectives investigating the death learned on Tuesday that Merritt had told a witness that he had buried a body in the backyard of a home at 3008 Lauressa Lane, according to authorities.

"He tried to get him to go to church. He witnessed to him. He took him places when his car was tore up," Vaughn said.

Police said they were waiting to execute a search warrant at that home when Merritt approached and was arrested.

When the search warrant was executed, a badly decomposed body was found wrapped in plastic and blankets under a large pile of wood and other items from the garage, according to a news release.

The victim was identified Thursday as Billy Wayne Deaton, 60, who was Vaughn's cousin. Deaton's cause of death has not been released.

Melanie Klements lives next to the home where the decomposed body was found. 

She said her interactions with Merritt were kind and endearing. At times, she said he would call her, "Mom."

"(Jimmy) was very, very polite. 'Yes ma'am, no ma'am. Is there anything I can do for you?' That was pretty much. All I can say is that he was very polite to me,"  Klements said. "You don't know what's living next door to you, I guess."

Merritt is charged with first-degree murder with a firearm, grand theft, scheme to defraud and uttering a forged check. Police said more charged are pending.

Merritt has criminal charges dating back to 1997. A number of those include felonies.

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