Former Central Michigan University professor William Lord Merrill has been released from jail, despite felonious charges of possessing and distributing child pornography.
U.S. Magistrate Michael Hluchaniuk ordered Merrill, 58, be released on a $50,000 bond Friday, overriding a federal prosecutor’s objection that Merrill may flee or try to kill himself, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Merrill, who specialized in Internet censorship and the use of children in advertising, appeared in Flint’s federal court Tuesday, where he pleaded not guilty to possession of child pornography, CM Life previously reported.
When questioned by investigators, Merrill said he “wanted to know if child pornography was as repulsive as he had read about,” after being sexually assaulted as a minor.
Merrill’s attorney Dan O’Neil said the alleged assault took place when Merrill was in fifth and sixth grade, living in Germany with his parents. He did not say who assaulted him.
Police said they found more than 5,400 images and at least 26 movies depicting children being sexually exploited on Merrill’s computer, but prosecutors said Merrill only admitted to downloading three videos.
The investigation began on Oct. 30 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, IT disconnected Merrill’s computer from the Internet in hopes he would contact IT for support.
Merrill resigned from his tenured position at CMU’s College of Education and Human Services on Nov. 12 after being confronted about three child pornography videos found on his school computer by university officials a week before.
On Nov. 8, Merrill was charged with a four-count felony which included 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. Merrill was also issued a misdemeanor charge of possessing a switchblade.
Merrill was scheduled to appear in a preliminary hearing in Isabella County Trial Court Tuesday morning, 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 had been employed by the university since 1987 and tenured since 1993. Students and staff reacted to the incident last week, calling Merrill “enthusiastic” about his teaching and “always willing to help.”
Merrill was due to make $99,442 for the 2012-13 academic year, and more than $138,000 including benefits, according to university records.