Man pleads guilty to touching, exposing himself to child

JONESBORO, Ark. – A sick crime was pleaded to in court Tuesday morning in Craighead County involving a man who preyed on a child he was supposed to be safeguarding.

Joseph Doug Merritt, 60, of Jonesboro, entered two negotiated pleas of guilty Tuesday morning before Judge Tonya Alexander in Craighead County Circuit Court. Merritt pleaded to sexual assault in the second degree, a class B felony, and sexual indecency with a child, a class D felony. 

Merritt’s admission of guilty was to acts including touching a 9-to-11 year-old relative’s breasts and buttocks through the clothing as well as exposing his genitalia to the same child, said Deputy Prosecutor Charlene Henry.

For count one, the sexual assault charge, Merritt will be on probation for 120 months. For 90 days of that, he will be on electronic monitoring. He also must complete the ACC Sex Offender Release Program, the deputy prosecutor told NEA Report. He will not be allowed around minor children without court approval. His DNA will be stored and he must, as expected, register as a sex offender. For count two, the indecency charge, an additional 72 months of suspended sentence was added to Merritt’s penalties, running concurrent with the sentence for the first charge.

In short, he will serve ten years probation and won’t be allowed around children anymore. And should Merritt’s probation be revoked for some reason, he could serve up to 20 years in prison on count one and six years for count two, Henry said.

The child victim, now 13, had a statement read by Henry in court Tuesday. The judge asked the family if they agreed with the sentence, to which they said they did. The negotiated plea allowed the child to avoid taking the stand against her assailant and relative.

Merritt had no prior criminal history, Henry said.

Warning – Graphic Content Description Below

In the probable cause affidavit filed on October 25, 2016, Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division contacted Jonesboro Police Department on March 25, 2016, in regards to a child claiming a relative had been touching her breasts. The allegations were called into the hotline and Investigator Jamie Moore began looking into the case.

During interview with the child, she said her relative Merritt had been touching her breasts, her butt and exposing his genitalia to her. The girl was very descriptive in her statement and said the acts had taken place not just once but repeatedly.

On April 8, 2016, Merritt came to JPD for an interview. He was read his Miranda Rights and agreed to speak to police. During the interview, Merritt admitted to fondling the pre-teen’s breasts and exposing his penis to her. He admitted, the affidavit says, to asking telling the child to touch his penis after he exposed it to her.

“He would take her home and when he was in the car with her, by himself, he would expose his penis to her,” Henry told NEA Report. “He would drive with his penis out of his pants.”

It was not known how long the actions took place but the child’s age ranged from 9 to 11, the prosecutor said.

Story by Stan Morris | NEA Report

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