Sexually explicit material found on former professor William Lord Merrill’s computer had nothing to do with his research, lawyers said Tuesday.Merrill, 58, appeared in federal court in Flint Tuesday, where he pleaded not guilty to possession of child pornography, the Associated Press reported. He is also being charged with separate state-level child porn charges.
“His whole world is crashing in,” Merrill’s attorney Dan O’Neil told the Associated Press. “We’re talking about a successful man who has never been in trouble.”
When questioned by investigators, Merrill said he was sexually assaulted as a minor and “wanted to know if child pornography was as repulsive as he had read about,” according to an affidavit provided to the AP.
Merrill spent time living in Germany where his parents worked for an American Automaker, O’Neil told AP. The alleged sexual assaults took place when Merrill was in fifth and sixth grades, O’Neil said. He declined to say who allegedly assaulted Merrill.
“I still have not seen any evidence of distribution or sharing,” O’Neil said. “Right now, all the evidence is reviewing this child pornography in the four corners of his home and office, which is serious enough.”
According to prosecutors, Merrill admitted to downloading three videos on his computer. Police eventually found more than 5,400 images and at least 26 movies depicting children being sexually exploited, according to an affidavit.
Investigation began when CMU’s information technology staff noticed a large amount of data being transmitted from a single computer on the network. After tracking the source of transmission, IT disconnected Merrill’s computer from the internet in hopes that the user would contact IT for support, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
One of the first images opened contained images of nude children who appeared to be 8 to 12 years old.
O’Neil said he expected Merrill’s charges in Isabella County to be dropped as a result of the federal charges being filed.
As previously reported by Central Michigan Life, Merrill was charged Nov. 8 with a four-count felony of 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 resigned from his tenured position at CMU’s College of Education and Human Services earlier this month after university authorities found three child pornography videos on his school computer.
The investigation began on Oct. 30, when CMU’s Information Technology staff noticed a large amount of computer data was being transmitted from a single computer, which, was found to be Merrill’s computer.
Merrill was scheduled to appear in a preliminary hearing Isabella County Trial Court Tuesday morning on a four-count felony related to child porn, but federal prosecutors served a warrant for his arrest, CMU Police Chief Bill Yeagley said.
Yeagley said the CMU Police Department reached out to the FBI because of its ‘expertise’ in processing forensic evidence. Federal authorities plan to assess the evidence and work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to identify the children involved in the explicit images and videos found in Merrill’s possession.
“It made sense to get them (FBI) involved … not only for the sentencing power, but in their ability to ID these other individuals involved,” Yeagley said.
Merrill resigned from Central Michigan University after being confronted about three child porn videos found on his school computer after being suspended by university officials Nov. 5 after an IT worker discovered child pornography on his computer.
Merrill was due to make $99,442 for the 2012-13 academic year, and more than $138,000 including benefits, according to university records.