Case Over - Judge Spivey Dismisses Murder Indictments Against Caleb Barrett
Superior Court Judge Andy Spivey issued his ruling on the murder charges against Caleb Barrett on Tuesday afternoon, November 7, and dismissed the murder indictments. Spivey ruled that Barrett “was reasonably justified in standing his ground and shooting Lea Merritt as a matter of self-defense.”
A hearing was held last Wednesday, November 1, in Coffee County Superior Court after Barrett’s lawyers filed a motion for immunity. Barrett’s public defenders argued that Barrett acted in self-defense when he shot and killed his sister, 37-year old Lea Jovan Merritt, at their College Avenue home in September of 2016.
On Tuesday, after taking a few days to make a ruling, Spivey sided with Barrett’s defense team and dismissed the case “with prejudice,” meaning Barrett will no longer face any charges connected with the shooting death of his sister.
Spivey’s decision reads, “Based upon a preponderance of evidence standard, the court finds that the defendant was reasonably justified in standing his ground and shooting Lea Merritt as a matter of self-defense and defense of others. Further, the defendant was justified in using force which was intended or likely to cause the death or great bodily harm because the defendant reasonably believed that such force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or to others.
“This is the case given, among other factors, Lea Merritt’s brandishing of an axe as an offensive weapon while attempting to close the distance with the defendant; her ignoring repeated commands to drop the axe, and her refusal to drop the axe despite having observed the defendant’s possession of his handgun and act of pointing the same at her. The court finds that the defendant did not initially provoke the use of force against himself with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon Lea Merritt.
“The defendant is entitled to pretrial immunity based upon self-defense. The court therefore grants the defendant’s motion [for immunity] and the above-styled indictment against Caleb Barrett is dismissed with prejudice.”
In the “Findings of Fact” portion of the ruling, Spivey wrote, “On September 18, 2016, the defendant Caleb Barrett and his mother, Deborah Merritt, lived in a residence located at 505 College Avenue in Douglas.
“The decedent, Lea Merritt, and her girlfriend, Christy McGovern, lived in a small camper in the front yard of the property. Lea Merritt’s past behavior, including an extensive history of drug use and violence towards both Deborah Merritt and Barrett, was such that she was not allowed in her mother’s home. She had, however, been allowed to place the camper on the property. The presence of the camper, and the behavior of Merritt and her associates while occupying he camper, had been a source of stress for both Deborah Merritt and Barrett.”
Spivey then went on to detail the events that transpired the day Barrett shot and killed Merritt. His ruling says that Barrett and his mother discussed “the presence” of the camper on the property on that day before calling Barrett’s father, Steve, about “the situation.” Barrett’s father told him to unplug the electricity to the camper, which Barrett did on two occasions.
When Barrett’s father arrived, he and Merritt got into a “verbal altercation,” which led to Merritt pushing the elder Barrett “onto a lawnmower.” The elder Barrett suffered “cuts and scrapes” to his arm, which bled.
“After committing the act of battery upon Steve Barrett, Lea Merritt armed herself with an axe” and went to “confront her mother.” She told Barrett to “go help his father,” and Barrett was “alarmed by Merritt’s possession of the axe.”
Spivey then said that Merritt “had been violent in the past with both Caleb Barrett and Deborah Merritt” and detailed attacks, which included Merritt being charged with Cruelty to Children after an incident with Barrett when he was 16 years old.
Spivey said the “overwhelming evidence” established Merritt had a “reputation for extreme violence.”
The ruling continues, “Barrett made the decision to retrieve his pistol, a Springfield XD 9mm, from under the seat of his truck,” which was “only a few steps away.” He returned to the area of the yard where his mother was seated on a concrete bench with Lea Merritt “standing mere feet away with the axe.
“Barrett pointed the pistol at Merritt and told her to put the axe down. He repeated this command multiple times. Merritt refused to do so. Instead, she said, ‘I ain’t scared of you,’ or words to that effect, turned away from Deborah Merritt, and began approaching Caleb Barrett. Merritt was still holding the axe, and Barrett testified she had it in a two-handed grip and that it was ‘drawn back.’ Barrett was afraid of Merritt approaching him with the axe. In the moment he reasonably perceived he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily injury and reasonably perceived it was necessary for him to shoot Lea Merritt in order to avoid the same. After she took one or two steps, Barrett fired a single shot. That shot proved fatal. Barrett ran inside, retrieved the home phone, and called 911.”
The ruling continues, “It should be noted that while after Barrett evinced some difficulty in remembering the precise positioning of the axe in Merritt’s hands, the court finds that the discrepancies in his statements to the police on this point were minor. They were also consistent with what might reasonably be expected from a person attempting to remember the fine details of a traumatic experience, particularly considering that his initial statement to the police began approximately one hour after the shooting.
“The court finds Barrett’s testimony on this point is credible.
“It is abundantly clear to the court that the alleged victim, Merritt, was the first aggressor in his case. It is likewise that the defendant did not engage in any provocation such as might have deprived him of the right of self-defense. This is true for multiple reasons. The court finds the defendant did not intentionally provoke Merritt.”
For the full story on last week’s hearing, please visit www.douglasenterpise.net.