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CMU professor William Lord Merrill suspended, charged with four counts related to child pornography

Interim Associate Vice President of Communications Sherry Knight, left, and CMU Police Chief Bill Yeagley, right, address the media in regards to the suspension of CMU Professor William Merrill on Thursday evening in the Bovee University Center Lakeshore Room. Merrill, 58, of Mount Pleasant was charged with four counts of child pornography and one count of possessing a switch blade. (Victoria Zegler/Photo Editor)

A Central Michigan University professor was charged Thursday with four counts relating to child pornography, four days after he was suspended by the university.

Bill Merrill

William Lord Merrill, 58 of Mount Pleasant, was charged in Isabella County Trial Court Thursday with a four-count felony: one count of possession of sexually abusive material, one count of distributing or promoting child sexually abusive activity and two counts of using a computer to commit a crime, according to court records. He was also charged with a misdemeanor charge of possessing a switchblade.

Merrill, a professor in the teaching education and professional development department, has been at CMU since 1987. He was tenured in 1993.

According to his bio page on cmich.edu, Merrill specializes in “censorship and the Internet, impact of children on advertising in society, integration of the Internet into instruction to enhance teaching and learning, and using technology to enhance teaching and learning.”

Interim Associate Vice President of Communications Sherry Knight said an investigation into Merrill began Monday when officials received a tip from someone in the Office of Information and Technology shortly after 9 a.m. who observed child pornography on a university computer being used by the professor.

Court documents show Merrill requested his computer be repaired on Monday because the Internet was shut down from his computer from excessive internet use.

An IT worker found the use of torrents on his computer and after examination found three videos containing child sexually abusive activity.

After Merrill admitted to police that he downloaded the videos, he said there was no additional child pornography videos on his work computer, documents said.

Police then served a search warrant on his office and home, finding 30 CDs, including one disc that had more than 10,000 files with most appearing to be pictures of child sexually abusive activity. More data is being reviewed, according to the documents.

Merrill was suspended and banned from the university Monday afternoon. He will be paid during his leave, as the university gives him his “due process,” Knight said during a Thursday afternoon news conference.

“We take this matter very seriously and have strict policies against this kind of conduct,” Knight said. “Public safety is an absolute priority at CMU.”

Knight said Merrill, whose office is located on the fourth floor of the EHS Building, is not believed to have had any contact with children in the first-floor Child Development and Learning Laboratory.

Merrill taught four classes — two undergraduate and two graduate — before his suspension, Knight said. A substitute professor has taken over the classes.

According to court documents, Merrill checked himself into the psychiatric ward at MidMichigan Medical Center-Gratiot, where he remained Thursday. It is unclear when he will be released.

Court documents say police served a search warrant and found more than 10,000 files, most of which were of child pornography. Police also seized CDs that contained 230 files of still photographs children with adults and other children, documents said.

CMU Police Chief Bill Yeagley remained mum on details, saying the investigation remains ongoing and referred afternoon inquires about the police report to Isabella County Prosecutor Risa Scully. Scully declined comment.

Michael Reuter, director of distributed computing and technical operations for the College of Education and Human Services, declined a query from CM Life Thursday relative to computer work orders on Monday, forwarding all calls to University Communications.

An arraignment of Merrill hasn’t been set, court officials said.

Dale Elizabeth-Pehrsson, dean of the College of Education and Human Services, did not return calls seeking comment. Calls made to the department were referred to the dean and University Communications.

Continue to check cm-life.com for updates.

18 Comments

  1. disqus_n2ttVeclwM says:

    Isn’t it ironic that he taught “Technology in Education?”

  2. In case anyone was worried, the union will protect his rights. I’m sure he’ll be reinstated by Monday.

  3. Before everyone rushes to hang this guy, look at what he teaches. Who is to say someone did not misconstrue risque, but otherwise legitimate research? Most cases involving kiddie porn involve large, multi-count charges because perps are caught with huge caches of porn on their computer, not one image, as it appears the charges would indicate here.

    All things considered, the abuse charge is probably the most damming, and the most troubling. I could be entirely wrong and maybe the guy is just a creep. That’s the point, though. We dont know enough yet to make any conclusions.

    • He transferred files to a compact disk, and checked himself into a psych ward. What is there to misconstrue?

    • Garret that was my first thought as well, and to be so bold and brazen to do it on a school owned computer, maybe its legit, or at least it may be a legit defense. BUT when you read they executed a search warrant at home and found what they found – um – no. Freak. See ya in jail.

    • When did 10,000 files not qualify as “huge caches of porn?”

    • Wow Garret. You should have read the article before commenting. The article clearly states 10000 images were found. And do you know what a “torrent” is? They are mainly used for downloading large files, not single pictures.

    • I count 4 charges, none of which are abuse (trafficking of child porn is very harmful, but it’s not “abuse” in the usual sense of the word. It’s harm to the victim is comparable to driving someone to suicide by outing him as gay, as happened on a college campus in the last year or two).

      The charges:

      * one count of POSSESSION of sexually abusive material,

      * one count of DISTRIBUTING or PROMOTING child sexually abusive activity

      * two counts of USING A COMPUTER to commit a crime

      * POSSESSING a switchblade.

      Never-mind what the law says, if I had to rank them by severity, I’d put distribution up top and “using a computer” in the trash can (whether a computer is used or not doesn’t change the moral offense, nor should it change the legal one).

  4. That’s such a misinformed comment, billy_joel. Tenure is protection for academics to be able to do research and hold unpopular opinions, but tenure does not protect professors who allegedly commit felonies and certainly not those convicted of them if that ends up being the case.

    • ManWithThe1000PoundBrain says:

      Exactly. Tenure protects academic freedom and supports truth and challenging curriculums. It does not protect felons.

  5. I cannot believe the poor quality of the press conference. This is 2012 CM-Life. As a former CMU grad and current teacher, let’s all hope for the best. Otherwise what a sick man.

  6. caringsocietyneededasap says:

    I could tell he was creepy just by waiting in line to pay for my overpriced latte..Feel bad for students that had him and I hear he was a hypocrite about lecturing students about being careful what they put on facebook. Seriously..If I want to complain about pervert professors and their disgusting habits I will!! Glad he didn’t work with the little kids in the learning lab. Disturbing that he had handcuffs in his office!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. ManWithThe1000PoundBrain says:

    You could tell he was creepy just by waiting in line to pay for your overpriced latte? Right.

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