Saturday, May 10, 2003

Fugitive who owes victim imprisoned

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer


HAMILTON - Joseph W. Merriman, a convicted felon, "strangely enough" obtained security clearance to build laboratories for the U.S. government overseas, his lawyer told a Butler County judge Friday.

Attorney Frank Schiavone argued for leniency, saying Merriman was ready to pay more than $11,000 in restitution he still owes Paula L. Wheeler nine years after running over her with his truck, causing serious injuries.

But Common Pleas Judge H.J. Bressler ordered Merriman back to prison, saying he had stayed away from probation officers for five years - and "chose a new identity to make sure that he stayed hidden."

Authorities said they arrested Merriman, 36, in Georgia on a probation violation charge last month on his way from Cairo, Egypt, to Cincinnati. Law officers said Merriman had assumed the identity of a child who died in 1972 at age 3. Charges for that alleged offense are pending.

Cincinnati FBI spokesman James L. Turgal Jr. said he had no information about security clearance for Merriman or any work he might have done on government projects.

Elmer Asher of Middletown said the FBI told his family that Merriman was using the name of his nephew, John Michael Asher, who died of leukemia. "So I don't know how good of an upstanding citizen he has been," Asher told the judge.

Bressler reimposed Merriman's original 18-month sentence for aggravated vehicular assault, minus 187 days' credit for time Merriman spent behind bars since his arrest and before his release on shock probation in 1994.

After Schiavone described Merriman's government work, Wheeler told the judge she had only received $300 in restitution. "If he's doing so well at his employment, why haven't I received more?" she asked. The money was supposed to cover her medical bills and lost wages.

Schiavone said his law firm had tried to negotiate a way for Merriman to make payments, and that his client was intending to surrender to Butler County authorities at the time federal officers intercepted him.

"This man has attempted to do the right thing," Schiavone said.

Merriman chatted and laughed with a fellow jail inmate before the court hearing and mouthed a few messages to his mother and wife.


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