In March 1989, two men robbed a coin store in Newport Beach, California, shooting the three people inside, killing two. Police eventually arrested Eric Wick. Wick admitted to the crime and initially claimed to have committed it alone. However, after the investigation led to Thomas Merrill, who had unknowingly helped Wick move the murder weapon to a storage locker, Wick claimed that Merrill was an accomplice and the shooter. The surviving victim supposedly stated immediately after the shooting that there were two men and that “Tom” shot him, but at trial he testified that he did not remember anything he said immediately after the shooting, and he could not identify Merrill at trial. There is some indication that Wick cooperated with the prosecution in their effort to convict Merrill in exchange for a reduced sentence. Several eyewitnesses saw one or both of the robbers. One man who had initially said that he saw only one robber, Wick, testified at trial that he had also seen Merrill. Another eyewitness who had seen two men denied to the police that Merrill was one of the robbers. The prosecution did not tell the defense that the first witness had originally seen only Wick, and that the second had denied that Merrill was the second robber.
In July 1991, Merrill was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and robbery and sentenced to two concurrent life sentences. Merrill’s attorney obtained a new trial based on the prosecution’s failure to disclose key exculpatory evidence. The first retrial resulted in a hung jury. Merrill was tried for the third time, and the jury acquitted him of all charges on October 13, 1995.
- Stephanie Denzel