Accused child pornographer's case suspended following mental evaluation

Accused child pornographer's case suspended following mental evaluation
Justin Hughes Merritt (Source: Craighead Co. Sheriff's Office)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The case against a man charged with child pornography has been suspended after a mental evaluation determined he was not fit for trial.

Circuit Judge Cindy Thyer approved a not-fit-to-proceed commitment order Thursday for 33-year-old Justin Hughes Merritt of Jonesboro after receiving the results of a state hospital forensic examination.

Jonesboro police arrested Merritt on Dec. 7, 2017, after he contacted several officers saying he wanted to turn himself in for various crimes.

That afternoon, Sgt. Brandon King was called to Mid-South Health Systems after Merritt reportedly told staff "he had been having sexual intercourse with very young boys and that he had a collection of child pornography on his computer."

After waiving his Miranda rights, the probable cause affidavit stated Merritt showed police a folder on his computer that "held numerous images of nude boys, believed to be 8-10 years of age, engaging in various sexual acts with adult male subjects."

Officers then arrested Merritt for possessing child pornography as well as public intoxication.

On Dec. 8, Judge Thyer found probable cause to charge Merritt and ordered him to undergo a fitness to proceed examination at Arkansas State Hospital (AHS) in Little Rock.

Merritt was formally arraigned on Dec. 27. His motion and plea day was set for March 1 with a jury trial scheduled for March 12-16.

On March 1, Merritt and his attorney appeared before Judge Thyer. According to her court notes, he was still awaiting an assessment at AHS.

"He wants to talk about the case today, and says he is represented by Sarah Palin's daughter," Thyer stated. "He needs to be evaluated."

Thyer dismissed the case until June 7-8 for motions and June 18-28 for trial.

Before he could appear for trial, the state hospital's forensic services division submitted their report on Merritt's mental fitness and results of his forensic psychiatric evaluation.

Upon reviewing the report, Thyer determined Merritt lacks the fitness to proceed to trial.

She suspended the case and ordered him committed to the custody of the Department of Human Services for detention, care and treatment "until restoration of fitness to proceed."

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