Clifford Merchant, a former Anchorage doctor who sexually abused four girls over the course of a decade, has been sentenced to 43 years in prison, marking the end of a hard-fought case complicated by a bizarre murder-for-hire allegation.
Palmer-based Assistant District Attorney Brittany Dunlop, who handled the case, said she is happy the judge delivered closure for Merchant's victims and the community.
"For the people who suffered, this has been a long time coming," Dunlop said. "Some of the victims tried to report the abuse in the early 2000s, and people just wouldn't listen to them because the defendant was a respected doctor in our community."
Merchant, 69, was a longtime doctor in Anchorage. He worked at Providence Alaska Medical Center's emergency department as a contract physician. The hospital suspended his physician privileges when it learned of his crimes. He was also the majority owner of two Anchorage walk-in clinics.
He was charged with nearly three dozen criminal counts including first- and second-degree sexual abuse of a minor and possession of child pornography. The charges stemmed from incidents between 2001 and 2013 said to have taken place at Merchant's home in South Anchorage, in his plane and at his cabin on Shell Lake near Skwentna.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack Smith's total sentence against Merchant was 51 years with eight years suspended on three charges. Merchant received the 30-year maximum on a consolidated sex abuse charge and 20 more years for possession of child pornography.
Dunlop requested a sentence of 60 years with 10 years suspended.
Judge Smith also restricted Merchant's parole eligibility. Merchant would have been able to apply for parole in eight years, but the judge ordered the earliest eligibility would be after Merchant served 23 years, Dunlop said.
Discussed murdering a complainant
The third charge, for which a single year was imposed, was for violating conditions of release. According to court documents, Merchant had posted $75,000 bail for the sex abuse charges when he contacted one of his victims and tried to have at least one of his other victims killed.
An FBI informant dubbed "the Bull" recorded Merchant discussing the cost of having the sex abuse victim murdered, according to court records.
That allegation is included in the probation violation charge, according to Dunlop. The state considered filing additional charges against Merchant but ultimately decided against it, she said.
Merchant decided not to go forward with the murder-for-hire plan at some point, she said. And the judge and defense lawyers interpreted the action as a "complete withdrawal" of the plan, a defense against the charge of solicitation to commit murder, Dunlop said.
Evidence of Merchant's withdrawal only emerged after he was back in prison on an increased bail, she said.
A 42-year-old Bryan man will spend 35 years in prison after pleading guilty to continuous sexual abuse of a young child, officials said.
According to the Brazos County district Attorney's Office, Eddie Galvan will not be eligible for parole. Galvan was arrested in October after someone witnessed him behaving inappropriately with a young girl. After questioning the child, it was determined Galvan had been inappropriately touching her, authorities said.
During the investigation, Bryan police identified several other girls who said Galvan had abused them. He ultimately was charged with two counts of continuous sexual abuse in relation to the abuse of six different children.
He was sentenced to prison in 2004 on a burglary of a habitation charge.
FARMINGTON, N.M. – Police said they have arrested a 23-year-old man on charges of child sexual abuse against a 5-year-old girl.
In a statement Friday, police said officers were dispatched to an apartment on Lee Avenue on Thursday morning. The child’s mother and her boyfriend, Scott Charles of Farmington, were staying at a relative’s apartment for the night.
According to the police statement, officers learned that Charles may have sexually abused the girl on several occasions over a period of a couple years in various locations. A child forensic interview and sexual assault exam were conducted as part of the investigation and detectives questioned Charles further.
A victim advocate with the Farmington Police Department assisted the child’s mother in obtaining an order of protection to prevent Charles from having further contact with the child, in the event he is able to bond out of jail.
Charles was arrested and charged with criminal sexual penetration of a minor, a first-degree felony that carries a sentence of up to 18 years in prison. He is being held at the San Juan County Detention Center on a $60,000 bond, according to the police statement.
SALEM, N.H. —An East Kingston man accused of possessing child sexual abuse images went before a judge Friday.
Christopher Murphy, 44, was arrested at his home Wednesday after an investigation that officials said involved several state and federal agencies.
Murphy is facing six felony charges of possession of child sexual abuse images.
"If you just look at the complaints, you can see that we're talking about some minors here and some pretty disturbing or graphic imagery or videos," prosecutor Heather Iworsky said.
Most of the court paperwork associated with the case is under seal.
"We're still investigating, so forensic evidence is still being examined, so I can't comment specifically on what evidence we have and what additional evidence may or may not be forthcoming," Iworsky said.
Prosecutors said the case is still open, and more charges are possible.
Murphy has no criminal history. Bail was set at $25,000, and Murphy was ordered to not use the internet and abide by an 11 p.m. curfew if he's released.
"The court entered a not-guilty plea for him, and we intend to go through the process, and we're going to defend these cases," defense attorney Pat Donovan said.
Murphy is an employee of the WMUR-TV sales department and has been suspended pending the outcome of the case. His next court hearing is scheduled for later this month.
SHERMAN, Texas (KXII) -- Michael McClung pleaded guilty Thursday to indecency and sexual assault of a child and was sentenced to 30 years.
McClung sexually abused four girls younger than 14.
Prosecutors said McClung knew his victims, and had abused them for about a year.
Sherman Police began its investigation into McClung after school teachers contacted Child Protective Services because they noticed bruises on the victims.
McClung was arrested in May and has been in custody since his arrest.
SAGINAW, MI — Nathan Eurick, 32, was arraigned on 15 felonies in two separate cases related to child sex abuse.
Eurick was arraigned on Friday, Sept. 16, in front of Saginaw County District Judge Randall Jurrens on five counts of possessing child sexually abusive material, and five counts of using a computer to commit a crime.
He was arraigned on his second case on one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, the most serious of sexual offenses and involves penetration, and four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, and involves serious variations of touching.
Eurick was in court with a sign-language interpreter who served as the link between him and the judge.
Eurick shook his head multiple times as the interpreter relayed the charges that Jurrens read aloud.
When asked if he understood the charges, Eurick signed to the interpreter who then told Jurrens, "Yes, I understand."
Eurick was appointed a lawyer after communicating that he couldn't afford one.
The Michigan State Police Computer Crimes Unit's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force investigated the Eurick, according to police.
Investigators received "a cyber tip provided to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children," police have said.
Following the seizure of "digital evidence" from the man's home and a forensic examination of that evidence, prosecutors issued charges, according to police.
He is scheduled for a Sept. 23 preliminary exam.
An Iowa teenager who was accused of sexually assaulting a 1-year-old girl while the act was recorded will not serve further jail time after he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of engaging in a lascivious act with a child.
A judge this week gave the teenager, Kraigen Grooms, 19, a 10-year suspended sentence and five years of supervised release, according to KTVO, a local television station. He must also register as a sex offender.
He was released after 2 years and four months in jail when he pleaded guilty in July.
“He needs to be locked up and have some intensive sex offender treatment,” Tim Caya, who runs the Locate the Missing page, said in an interview.
There was a similar reaction in local media. “Why is it a first time drug offense is more likely to get you a prison sentence than child molestation?” an Ottumwa Radio commenter asked.
Believe it or not, I actually agree with the sentencing. Grooms is a stupid kid trying to impress an imaginary girl, not a pedophile. The two perverts who egged him on, however, ought to be locked up until Armageddon.
Responding to the criticism, Gary Oldenburger, the county attorney for Wapello County, defended the sentence in a statement dated Thursday, presenting Mr. Grooms as the unwitting lackey of child pornographers who tricked him into the assault, as they had done to hundreds of other children.
By pretending to be a girl his age, then 16, the two men, one in New Orleans and one in Ireland, persuaded the teenager to perform sex acts he wouldn’t otherwise have done, Mr. Oldenburger said.
Mr. Grooms did not know he was being recorded, the prosecutor said in the statement.
He added that the child was uninjured, no pain was inflicted, and the child was too young to be aware of what was happening. Though the crime was no “less horrible because the child was too young to understand,” the lack of injury is an important factor in sentencing, he said.
“While it is easy for the outside observer to advocate a hard-line stance that every sexual offense against a minor should result in a long prison sentence,” he wrote, “anyone who actually deals with these situations knows that each case is unique and every case must be handled on its own merits.”
The case began in March 2014, when investigators at the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement sought help from the public in identifying someone they believed had engaged in unspecified sexual conduct with the girl, who was between 12 and 18 months old. The encounter had been recorded on video.
Mr. Caya, who lives in Brookings, S.D., created a flier and the post was shared thousands of times, and commenters zeroed in on Mr. Grooms as a suspect. Mr. Caya and other commenters called the police, and Mr. Grooms was arrested the following day.
Mr. Grooms, who was tried as an adult, was initially charged with second-degree sexual abuse, according to The Ottumwa Post. That charge carried a punishment of up to 25 years in prison.
Mr. Oldenburger said the case likely would have been dismissed had it gone to trial. The parents of the victim did not want Mr. Grooms to serve significant jail time and were more focused on him receiving treatment, he said.
The prosecutor also said that important witnesses were unwilling to testify, so the video might not have been admissible as evidence, making a trial more difficult.
He said a long sentence likely would have been overturned on appeal, with a quick parole. The 860 days he had already spent in jail would have counted toward his time served.
Mr. Oldenburger said psychologists did not believe Mr. Grooms was a high-risk candidate for committing more offenses.
“If Grooms was sent to prison for a long period of time rather than being sentenced to probation, he more than likely would be a greater risk to the community after his release than he will be after serving the sentence he received,” he said.
It was not immediately clear whether the men in New Orleans and Ireland have been arrested.
LORETTA PARK, Standard-Examiner Staff
OGDEN — A 35-year-old Roy man pleaded guilty, but mentally ill, to child sex abuse and child pornography charges at a hearing in 2nd District Court.
Jacob Wilson Hatch agreed to a plea deal on Wednesday, Sept. 14, before Judge Brent West.
Hatch had originally been charged with three counts of rape of a child, first-degree felonies; and 14 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, second-degree felonies. By pleading guilty to the aggravated sexual abuse of a child, Hatch faces a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life at the Utah State Prison.
The charges of rape of a child each carried a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life at the prison.
The second-degree felonies each carry possible sentences of 1 to 15 years at the prison.
According to the probable cause statement of arrest filed in 2nd District Court, the Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force served a warrant at Hatch’s home on April 6. Officers found a laptop that had 14 videos of child pornography stored on it.
During the investigation, Hatch told officers he had sexual intercourse at least three times with a girl he knew under the age of 14 when he was 32. The rape happened between July 5, 2012 and July 5, 2014, according to the documents.
According to the court docket, Hatch has had several evaluations done concerning his mental competency since his arrest.
Hatch was booked in the Weber County Jail on April 6 and has been held there in lieu of a $140,000 bail. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 19.