Merrell to run for district attorney’s office

Published 12:27 am Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Walt Merrell has announced he is a Republican candidate for Covington County district attorney.

Hired by then-district attorney Genie Loggins as a drug task force prosecutor in 2002, Merrell spent five years in the district attorney’s office. In his experience there, he successfully prosecuted cases ranging from child sex abuse to drugs and helped prosecute capital murder cases.

He said he’d like to return to work he found personally fulfilling.

Fighting the war on drugs and helping addicts put their lives back together have been a major focus of his life, shaped initially by family experience. It is no secret that he has a sibling with a drug addiction.

He believes, he said, that his brother turned to an illegal substance at a time of his life when he had gone through a divorce, had financial troubles, and a dealer said to him, ‘Here, this will make you feel better.’

“That dealer has robbed my brother of at least 10 years of his life,” Merrell said. “I have no problem with prosecution costing a dealer 10 years of his.”

Drug dealers are predators, he said, and they belong behind bars. But at the same time, he said, the court can be more effective by putting addicts in a rehab program, freeing up prison space for a dealer.

“I’ve had all kinds of people call me or send me emails saying, ‘You saved my life,’ ” he said. “I didn’t save their lives, but being part of the process became fulfilling to me.”

Unless the court system delivers the message that drug dealers belong in prison, “we are not deterring criminal activity.”

Too many drug dealers and other criminals are allowed to plead to lesser offenses, he said, instead of being sentenced to time behind bars. He also cited a theft case in which a man stole $40,000 from an employer, but was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.

Resolutions like that, he said, undermine the morale of law enforcement rather than encouraging them to make good, solid cases.

In 2004-5, as the local DTF prosecutor, he worked at the state level to strengthen laws that have led to a decrease in the production of methamphetamines. He said he had been talking with Sen. Jimmy Holley and others about the possibility of regulating pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in over-the-counter medication that is used in the production of meth. When he and a DTF agent were invited to Montgomery to speak on the issue, he thought he was meeting with a senator or two.

Instead, he found himself in a committee meeting filled with lobbyists for pharmaceutical companies.

“We were outmanned and outgunned,” he said. But at the end of the day, they had reached compromise on a bill – now a law – that regulates the amount of drugs containing pseudoephedrine that can be sold, requires a photo identification to purchase the drugs, and requires retailers to keep lists of those who buy.

“Out of that effort, meth production has dropped dramatically,” he said.

He is a partner in Merrell and Bryan, LLC of Andalusia.

He is a graduate of Cumberland School of Law at Samford University and earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Montevallo in political science.

He is a member of the Andalusia Lions Club; is a founding member of the board of directors of Crossover Ministries; is a member and former president of the LBW Community College Foundation board; teaches Sunday School and Royal Ambassadors at Bethany Baptist Church; is the attorney for the local Police Benevolence Association; and is the former president of the Covington County Bar Association.

He and his wife, Hannah Gantt Merrell, have three daughters, Cape, Bay and Banks.