By Bruce A. Smith
Last week, Keith Merz, the brother of convicted murderer Kelly Merz, contacted the Mountain News and shared personal information that he felt was missing from our initial reportage.
Kelly is awaiting sentencing April 20 in the shooting death of Cori Lewis, 33, who perished in South Hill on September 11, 2011.
Keith said he hasn’t seen his brother is several years, but has spoken with him since the trial and described several elements of Kelly’s life that the family feels has not been fully portrayed in the media.
To begin, Keith describes his brother Kelly as having always been an “upstanding citizen…always an ‘A’ and ‘B’ student in school.”
Nevertheless, Keith does acknowledge that Kelly did murder Cori Lewis.
“I’m not trying to justify his actions in any way,” Keith said, “but he couldn’t have been in his right mind.”
Keith also said that Kelly told him that he doesn’t remember any part of the incident.
Further, efforts to piece together how Kelly came to a state of mind in which he could commit murder also seem elusive.
“We’re all just dumbfounded,” said Keith.
Keith adamantly says that Kelly was not a drug user and rarely, if ever, drank alcohol. Reports from the police and the prosecutor also support that view. The court charging papers also include statements from Kelly’s ex-wife, Cherlyn, saying that Kelly did not have a drug or drinking issue, and had never displayed any psychological imbalance.
However, one surprising element of the case revealed by Keith is that Kelly tried to have his court-appointed attorney dismissed, and that he wanted to represent himself, an action known as Pro Se.
“His lawyer told him he should get life,” fumed Keith, clearly upset at the lack of support from Kelly’s attorney. In addition, Keith said that the attorney, believed to be Mark Quigley, no longer returns phone calls to Merz family members, most of whom live in the family’s ancestral grounds of southern Ohio, near the small community of Peebles.
In addition, Keith says that Kelly wanted to testify, but was not allowed by his attorney.
“The man didn’t do his job,” said Keith.
Keith was also accusative of the deceased, Cori Lewis. Keith said that Kelly had told him that Cori had stolen from him, robbing his safe by getting the combination from his bible.
In addition, Keith said that Cherlyn had told him that the cleaning crew that had entered the apartment where the homicide took place had found drugs, which the Merz family believes belonged to Ms. Lewis. However, the deputy prosecutor Phil Sorenson refutes the presence or influence of drugs in the murder.
As for how Kelly came to have not just one female roommate but two – at least for a short period of time – as Cori had a friend staying with her during the six-week period she lived with Kelly Merz, is not fully explained. Keith claims his brother allowed Cori to live with him in an act of charity.
“It was just Kelly being generous,” Keith said.
However, later, Keith admitted that Kelly had described the relationship as a bit more complex, and that Cori was bartering cleaning services for her rent. This arrangement has also been described by neighbors who spoke with the Mountain News.
Nevertheless, Keith acknowledged that his brother was not socially adept.
“Kelly was not bright about women,” Keith said.
Regarding Cherlyn, Keith said that she and Kelly had met in the hospital in Peebles, Ohio when he was recovering from a motorcycle accident and she was a volunteer “candy-striper.”
“He told everyone that he knew he was going to marry her,” Keith said. “He said that he just knew.”
Keith agreed that Cherlyn was the “dominant” partner in the marriage, but he stressed that Kelly contributed large amounts of money to the relationship, especially when he was in service.
Nevertheless, Keith doesn’t not know why the pair divorced.
“I was taught to stay out of people’s business, and I do,” he said. “But their divorce – it was surprising since they had been together so long, twenty years.”
Keith is also uncertain what Kelly did in the military, other than serving in a war that he is not sure of the name, but thought that it was “Desert Storm.” Keith said that all he knows of his brother’s service is that Kelly was overseas and worked with refugees.
Further, Keith does not know why the New Testament Christian Church revoked Kelly’s lay pastorship credentials, nor why he and Cherlyn left the church afterwards.
Kelly Merz is due back in court on April 20 for sentencing. He faces 26-33 years for first degree homicide and for having a sexual interaction with the corpse.
© 2012 Mountain News-WA