Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jack Ronald Merker -- The Voice Stilled

Merker enjoyed a long and distinguished career in San Diego, California, radio as an executive producer at KNSD/Channel 39, program director at both KOGO/AM 600 and KSDO/AM 1130, and as an on-air broadcast news personality.  Colleagues credited him with making radio news in the area more lively and competitive as well as for launching the talk show career host of Michael Reagan, son of former President Ronald Reagan.  In 1996, the openly gay Merker produced a radio show about AIDS that was honored with the New York International Radio Award.  He served as the county's director of media and public relations until ill health in 1999 prompted him to retire to the desert community of Palm Springs, California.  The 63-year-old former radio executive was staying at the home of a friend in Palm Springs when he was last seen leaving a local bar on November 28 or 29, 2001, with a man later identified as Erick Lavonne Wright (reported in the press as "Erik Levaughan Wright"), a 22-year-old resident of nearby Rancho Mirage.  Days later on December 1, a real estate agent showing the home of Merker's friend to a prospective buyer discovered the radio man's body tossed into a laundry room.  Merker, bound and gagged, had died of "compression of the neck."  Prime suspect Erick Wright proved easy for Palm springs authorities to find.  The day prior to the shocking discovery of Merker's body, Wright had been arrested by local police for the recent robbing and repeated stabbing of a motorist who had given him a ride.  At trial, Wright admitted choking Merker, but only to disable him after the elderly man became violent during their sexual encounter.  The prosecution maintained Wright deliberately killed Merker to get money for drugs.  Found guilty of second-degree murder on January 6, 2004, he was subsequently sentenced to a prison term of 15 years to life.  As of May 2014, Erick Lavonne Wright, Inmate #V26049, is incarcerated at the Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe, California.

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