From the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney's Office:
Today a Pierce County jury found Kelly Merz, 51, guilty as charged of Murder in the First Degree and Sexually Violating Human Remains in the shooting death of his roommate, 33-year-old Cori Lewis, on September 11, 2011.
“This was swift justice thanks to quick police work and vigorous prosecution,” Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said. “Chief Criminal Deputy Phil Sorensen and Deputy Prosecutor Alicia Burton did an outstanding job on this disturbing case.”
On September 12, 2011, the defendant’s ex-wife walked into the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department South Hill precinct and reported that Merz had just called her and confessed to killing his roommate. After his arrest, Merz told police he shot the victim during an argument, and then buried her. He led investigators to a wooded area of Graham, where the victim’s naked body was found in a shallow grave. The autopsy determined she died from a single gunshot wound to the head.
In August 2011, the victim and a friend began renting a bedroom in Merz’ two-bedroom apartment. Tension among the roommates quickly ensued. When Cori received a notice of eviction from Merz, she confronted him. Their argument turned violent and he tried unsuccessfully to break her neck. Intent on killing Cori, he pinned her to the floor, pulled a .380 handgun from his back pocket, placed the muzzle to her head and fired once.
Merz described in detail to detectives how he took the victim’s body to a forested trail area in Puyallup and dumped her body. He was preparing to dig a grave when a local man approached him. The man called police after noticing Merz’ nervous behavior and seeing obvious scratches on his face and arms. Merz left the area after being contacted by a sheriff’s deputy. Neither the man nor the deputy could see the victim’s body, which lay feet 15 off the trail. A short time later, Merz returned to the site and retrieved the victim’s body. He drove to a secluded area near Graham and dug a shallow grave. Merz stripped the clothes from the victim’s body and kissed her genital area before covering her body with dirt.
During the trial, Merz admitted to killing Cori but claimed he was not in his right mind at the time. Substantial evidence of his calculated efforts to conceal the crime, including dumping bloody clothes in trash bins at various local businesses, helped persuade the jury that he was fully aware of his actions during and after the murder.
Merz faces more than 25 years in prison when sentenced on April 20 at 1:30 p.m. in Courtroom 2C in the County City Building.