William Carson Merrill, the 33-year-old former resident of Covington Lane in Palm Coast, pleaded no contest to a manslaughter charge in the shooting death of his wife, Stefanie, at the couple’s home on Feb. 21.
There will be no trial in the case. Merrill will be sentenced on Oct. 29 at 2 p.m. He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Merrill, who says he shot his wife by mistake, entered his plea before Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano on Monday (Oct. 1).
Because of Merrill’s previous record as a felon, and Zambrano’s pronounced toughness on criminals, Merrill’s sentence is not likely to be light.
The shooting took place in one of the couple’s bathrooms, where the couple’s young daughter was taking a bath. Merrill was handling an AK-47 he had taken out of a bathroom closet. He was pointing it at his wife’s chest, and remarking about the laser pointer, when he pulled the trigger, according to a police report filed at the time, and according to his descriptions of the incident. Stefanie Merrill died a short time later.
Merrill, a previously convicted felon, was also charged with possession of firearm, by a felon. A large stash of weapons–rifles and handguns–was recovered from his home by Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies after the shooting. But State Attorney R.J. Larizza’s office agreed to drop that charge in the plea agreement.
In 2006, Merill had been arrested in Flagler County for head-butting his wife during a domestic argument over money. In 2007, he was arrested, charged and convicted of grand theft for stealing materials he sold from his employer, and reselling it from his home. At the time, he was also charged with possession of firearms by a convicted felon, but those charges were dropped, even though he’d told a cop he had two .22-caliber revolvers–a fateful decision.
His felony record dates back to his years in Tennessee, where he was arrested repeatedly when he was 20, and convicted on felony and misdemeanor charges for drug possession and reckless driving. He only served a brief time in jail back then. Merrill has been at the Flagler County jail since the February shooting, on $200,000 bail.
In an unrelated matter on Oct. 2, Michael Eric Canaday, formerly of 2 Sedley Place in Palm Coast, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for raping and molesting a child between August 2004 and July 2008 in Putnam County.
Canaday, 44, was found guilty in a Putnam County trial in August.
The child, who was between 12 and 16 years old, was in Canaday’s custody, and was his step-daughter. He would go into the child’s bedroom, wake her up and proceed to molest her.
The rape charge was a first-degree capital felony, meaning that he could have faced the death penalty. The molestation charge is a second-degree felony. Circuit Judge Carlos E. Mendoza sentenced Canaday to concurrent terms.