GREENFIELD — Larry Merriman told his daughter he will never forgive her — not for as long as he lives.
Face to face with his daughter for the first time in nearly 10 months, Larry Merriman stood before a judge Thursday and blamed Jessica Merriman for what happened to baby Zoey.
The 1-year-old girl found dead last May in her Greenfield home was killed by the same man who time and again had beaten Jessica Merriman, and yet the 33-year-old mother left her daughter in his care the day Zoey died.
Story continues below gallery
Matthew Wagoner, Merriman’s ex-husband, is serving a 67-year sentence for murdering Zoey, who suffered blunt-force traumatic injuries, including a laceration to her liver, which caused her to bleed to death internally, and a blow to the head, which caused bleeding in her brain.
But the girl’s mother, a judge said Thursday, is also responsible: Hancock County Superior Court 1 Judge Terry Snow sentenced Merriman, who pleaded guilty to neglect, to 37 years — 25 of which she will spend in prison, followed by 12 years on probation.
Investigators said they aren’t sure what happened at the house on Wood Street in Greenfield the day Zoey died, as Wagoner never admitted to abusing her, but coroners documented at least 50 injuries to the child’s body that occurred in the hours before her death. Wagoner was the last person to see her alive.
While the evidence presented at Wagoner’s trial — including witness testimony and cellphone records — showed Merriman was not home when Zoey was assaulted, investigators say she’s equally to blame for her daughter’s death.
Merriman knew Wagoner was violent, prosecutors said, and she signed Department of Child Services safety plans three times agreeing to keep her children away from him. He also had abused Merriman; he was convicted of domestic battery in 2012.
The couple moved to Hancock County in May, days before Zoey was murdered, and Merriman allowed Wagoner to live at the home with her children despite her agreement with the state to keep him out of their lives.
Originally, Merriman faced the same murder charge as her husband, whom she divorced shortly after their arrests.
In early February, Merriman accepted a deal from prosecutors in which she agreed to plead guilty to four counts of neglect: two Level 3 felonies related to Zoey’s death and two Level 6 felonies for putting her other two child in danger.
Investigators say both Wagoner and Merriman knew their daughter was ailing the day she died but failed to seek medical care for fear the Department of Child Services would realize they had violated state orders.
Investigators pointed out past injuries to Zoey’s body, including ones that never healed properly, suggest the abuse was ongoing, court documents state.
During the autopsy, examiners found Zoey had suffered a broken arm that was never treated by doctors.
During the two-hour sentencing hearing Thursday, Deputy Prosecutor John Keiffner said Merriman repeatedly chose men over her children. She lied to her family about moving with Wagoner to Greenfield, despite her parents’ attempts to keep the children away from him, Keiffner said.
Merriman’s defense attorney, Phillip Sheward of Greenfield, painted a picture of a battered mother who couldn’t pull herself away from her abuse. That abuse trickled down to the defendant’s children, Sheward said, and Merriman is remorseful she didn’t do more to protect them.
Merriman read a brief statement during the hearing. She told the court she’ll live with regret every day about what happened to Zoey.
“I’ve come to understand what my role was … but I’m not a monster,” Merriman said.
Snow told Merriman he couldn’t judge her as a person — he could only take into account the actions that landed her in his courtroom.
“Mothers and fathers are held to a higher standard,” he said. “God gave you that little girl to take care of.”