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