Rita, who was 27 at the time of her death was shot in the head with an assault rifle just before midnight on September 17, 2011. The shooting incident was witnessed by the couple's three-year-old child.
Merritt originally informed dispatchers that his wife had committed suicide. Merritt stated that his wife was bipolar and grabbed the gun to kill herself. Merritt also stated that he had also grabbed the gun in an effort to stop her from killing herself when the gun accidentally discharged.
Merritt was found guilty two weeks ago on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony crime and first degree cruelty to children.
Polk County Superior Court Judge Michael Murphy sentenced Merritt today to life without parole plus consecutive sentences for cruelty to children and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.
Merritt maintains his innocence and insists that the shooting was an accident. He stated that he thinks about it every day. He also stated that he misses his three children.
Merritt remains in custody at the Polk County jail where he will be housed until his transfer to prison.
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