by Hugo Adam Bedau and Michael L. Radelet

Excerpt from Appendix A: Catalogue of Defendants

MERRITT, GEORGE (black). 1968. New Jersey. Merritt was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment for killing a white police officer during a “race riot.” Merritt was one of a dozen persons charged for this crime. The appellate division reversed and the state supreme court affirmed the reversal.1 At retrial in 1974, Merritt was again convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal in 1976, this conviction was reversed.2 In 1977, he was again retried and reconvicted. In 1980, on habeas corpus petition to the federal courts, the third conviction was reversed.3 The case against Merritt rested solely on the testimony of one witness. The prosecutor had failed to disclose a report of a pretrial police interview with this witness that was completely at variance with the testimony given at trial. After ten years in prison, Merritt was freed. After release, his attorney asked: “What would the proponents of the death penalty have to say if Merritt had been executed before the discovery of the concealed document?”4


1. State v. Madden, 61 N.J. 377, 294 A.2d 609 (1972).
2. United States ex rel. Merritt v. Hicks, 492 F. Supp. 99, 100 (D.N.J. 1980) (citing unpublished opinion of the N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. dated Oct. 6, 1976).
3. United States ex rel. Merritt v. Hicks, 492 F. Supp. 99 (D.N.J. 1980).
4. N.Y. Times, Dec. 21, 1983, at A26, col. 1.