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Troy MERCK Jr.







A.K.A.: "Billy Joe Melton" - "Hillbilly"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Fight bar
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: October 11, 1991
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: January 9, 1972
Victim profile: James Anthony Newton
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Pinellas County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on December 10, 1993. Resentenced to death on September 12, 1997 and August 6, 2004

Florida Supreme Court

opinion 83063 opinion SC91581
opinion SC04-1902

AKA:  Billy Joe Melton or Hillbilly

DC# 118167
DOB:  01/09/72

Sixth Judicial Circuit, Pinellas County Case# 91-16659
Sentencing Judge:  The Honorable Claire K. Luten
Resentencing Judge (I):  The Honorable Nelly N. Khoutzam
Resentencing Judge (II):  The Honorable Brandt C. Downey, III
Attorneys, Trial:  Frederick S. Zinober & James A. Martin – Private
Attorneys, Direct Appeal:  William Bennett, Richard Watts & Michael
Schwartzberg – Private
Attorney, Resentencing (I):  Steven L. Bolotin – Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Resentencing (II):  John C. Fisher – Public Defender

Date of Offense:  10/11/91

Date of Sentence:  12/10/93

Date of Resentence (I):  09/12/97

Date of Resentence (II):  08/06/04

Circumstances of Offense:

On 09/07/93, Troy Merck, Jr. was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

On the night of 10/10/91, Merck and his companion, Neil Thomas, who came from North Carolina to Florida, attended a bar in Pinellas County. 

The bar closed at 2:00 a.m. and several of the patrons remained in the bar’s parking lot.  Several of the patrons and witnesses, including Merck and Thomas, had consumed a substantial amount of alcohol during the evening, while at the bar. 

In the parking lot, Merck and his companion were leaning on a parked car with multiple occupants inside.  One of the occupants of the car asked them to not lean on the car. 

Merck and his companion sarcastically apologized.  James Anthony Newton approached the car and engaged in a conversation with the occupants in the car.  Merck made a snide remark to Newton, after overhearing an occupant of the car, Katherine Sullivan (who had been drinking and was an off-duty bartender at the bar), congratulating Newton on his birthday.  Newton told Merck to mind his own business, and Merck attempted to provoke a fight, which Newton refused.

Merck walked over to his car, unlocked his passenger-side door, took off his shirt, and threw his shirt in the back seat.  Merck approached Newton once again and began punching him in the back.  Sullivan testified that she saw a glint of light from some sort of blade and saw blood spots on Newton’s back.  Sullivan testified that she ran back into the bar and told bouncers to call 911. 

At the trial, Sullivan described the person who stabbed Newton as a man wearing khaki pants.  She stated that it was Merck, not Thomas, who made snide remarks and goaded Newton to fight.  James Carter, the chief security for the nightclub, ran out to the parking lot after Sullivan reported the stabbing.  He saw a car pulling out of the parking lot and was able to get the license plate number. 

Another coworker was assisting Newton, who was moving and coughing up blood.  According to medical examiners, Newton died from multiple stab wounds, but the main fatal wound was to the neck.

At trial, Thomas acknowledged that he had eight or nine felony convictions and claimed to have changed his life since then.  According to Thomas, he and Merck met just a few weeks before the incident at a bar in Ocala and became friends.  On the night of the incident, Thomas stated that he had been drinking heavily, as was Merck. 

Thomas admitted he was trying to provoke Newton into a fight, but was not getting a response out of him.  Merck became very agitated with Newton and began beating Newton from behind, throwing punches.  Thomas did not recall giving Merck the keys to his car, but remembered warning Newton to leave before the situation escalated.

As the fight carried on for the next 15-20 seconds, Thomas stated that his attention shifted away from the fight to the entire parking lot.  As Thomas shifted his attention back to the fight, he noticed Newton bent over the hood of a blue car and his shirt appeared rather wet.  Merck demanded to Thomas that it was time to leave and he agreed.  Thomas stated that he noticed Merck holding his hand stiffly by his leg as if concealing something; he had not seen a knife, but was starting to have suspicion.

Thomas drove away from the parking lot and asked Merck if he stabbed Newton.  Merck admitted the stabbing, while holding a bloody knife in the air, and said that if he did not kill him, he would find him at the hospital and “finish the job.”  Thomas stated that Merck threatened to kill his grandmother if he said anything.  The two men drove into an apartment complex to change the license tag of the car. 

Afterwards, they went to a Burger King and then a bowling alley where they shot pool for 20 minutes. They left their car at the Burger King, after spotting a police cruiser, and took a taxi back to their hotel room.  Thomas stated that Merck was demonstrating the stabbing repeatedly as if he was bragging about it. 

The next morning, the two men went to retrieve their car, but it was missing.  When they called their girlfriends from North Carolina, the police were there.  Their girlfriends eventually drove down and met the two men at their hotel.  The police tracked them to the hotel after Thomas called his grandmother. 

Deputy Charles Vaughn testified that when Merck and Thomas’ abandoned vehicle was discovered, a license plate and a knife were found inside the vehicle.  Merck was taken into custody by the lead investigator of the case, Detective Thomas Nestor, who took the eyewitness statement from Sullivan on the night of the incident.

Codefendant Information:

Neil Thomas was not charged as an accessory to the murder of Newton.  There is also no evidence that Thomas has a prior incarceration history. 

Trial Summary:

11/14/91          Indicted as follows:

Count I:           First-Degree Murder   

11/06/92          Trial ended in mistrial because the jury was unable to reach a verdict

09/07/93          During the second trial, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts of the indictment

09/14/93          Jury recommended death by a vote of 9-3

12/10/93          Sentenced as follows:

Count I:           First-Degree Murder – Death

07/15/97          Resentencing (II) trial commenced

07/18/97          Jury recommended death by a vote of 12-0

09/12/97          Trial judge imposed death sentence

08/06/04          Trial court resentenced (III) Merck to death by a jury vote of 9-3

Case Information:

On 01/21/94, Merck filed a Direct Appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.  He raised five issues.  First, Merck claimed that the trial court erred in imposing the death sentence.  Second, he argued that the death sentence is invalid because the jury heard and the trial judge considered highly prejudicial testimony not relating to any statutory aggravating circumstance. 

Third, Merck contended the trial court erred in denying his motion for mistrial based upon a State witness’ reference to the first trial of this case.  Fourth, he claimed that his conviction must be vacated as a result of the State’s bad-faith failure to preserve potentially exculpatory evidence. 

Finally, Merck claimed the trial court erred in giving the jury an unconstitutionally vague and overbroad instruction on the “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel” aggravating factor.  On 10/12/95, the Court affirmed Merck’s conviction and remanded for resentencing.

On 10/13/97, Merck filed a Direct Appeal for resentencing to the Florida Supreme Court.  On 07/13/00, the Court affirmed the conviction but reversed the death sentence based on the finding that juvenile adjudication as to a North Carolina shooting incident was not a “conviction” within the meaning of the statute making prior conviction of a violent felony an aggravating factor and that the trial court’s finding of the aggravator was harmful error.  The Court ordered a complete new penalty-phase proceeding before a jury.

On 09/27/04, Merck filed another Direct Appeal for resentencing to the Florida Supreme Court, which is currently pending.



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