Nine-year prison term for man who assaulted BHS teens

The Poulsbo man who sexually assaulted two 16-year-old girls, and spied on another 15-year-old girl in a restroom at Bainbridge High School, before leading police on chase through Winslow has been sentenced to nine years in prison.

William Christopher Merritt, 34, was sentenced in Kitsap County Court Dec. 13.

In addition to his 108-month prison sentence, Kitsap Superior Court Judge Jeannette Dalton set probation at 30 months.

Merritt had earlier entered a plea of guilty to second-degree burglary with sexual motivation, indecent liberties, first-degree voyeurism, attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, and two counts of second-degree assault.

Dalton also sentenced Merritt for an offense while he was an inmate at Kitsap County Jail. He was given 29 months for third-degree assault and 12 months probation for an incident last May where he spit on a corrections officer who tried to move him out of his cell so it could be cleaned.

Dalton will serve the sentence for third-degree assault concurrently, at the same time as his sentence for his Bainbridge crimes.

Merritt was taken to the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton following his sentencing to serve out his prison term.

Upon his release, Merritt has been ordered to stay away from Bainbridge High, and no-contact protection orders have been approved to keep Merritt away from his three victims for a period of 12 years.

A frantic search

The assaults of the three high school students Feb. 28, 2018 set off a frenzied police search for Merritt right after BHS officials reported an intruder at the high school.

BHS and other schools were put on lockdown, and authorities later alleged that Merritt had entered the gymnasium building at the high school and was looking in a trophy case when a 15-year-old girl went into a nearby restroom and entered a stall.

The teen told a teacher that a man, later identified as Merritt, also came into the girls restroom and went into the stall next to her, then ducked his head under the divider wall and looked into her stall before leaving.

Another student who was walking down the hallway of the adjacent 300 Building said a man matching Merritt’s description approached her in the hallway and grabbed her chest. He then walked away without saying anything.

That student immediately reported the assault to a teacher, who tried to stop Merritt while he was still inside the 300 Building.

Merritt refused to stop and answer the teacher’s questions, and finally said, “Are you still following me?”

BHS Principal Kristin Haizlip quickly caught up with the teacher, and they gave chase as Merritt fled the 300 Building.

Haizlip pointed out the intruder to Bainbridge Police Officer Chuck Kazer, who had responded to the school and was in the lower lot by Commodore. He confronted Merritt as he was coming down the hill.

Merritt reportedly slipped and fell while walking down the rain-soaked hillside, then jumped up and continued toward the parking lot.

Kazer told Merritt to take his hands out of his pockets, according to court documents, but Merritt refused to obey the officer’s commands.

“Shoot me with the gun!” Merritt yelled several times at Kazer as he continued to walk away.

Merritt finally raised his hands as Kazer briefly grabbed him by the shoulder as he approached the rear end of his Honda. But when Kazer took a step back, Merritt quickly ran around the front of the blue Honda Fit and jumped inside.

Merritt then locked the doors, started the Honda and struck Kazer with the car as he drove away.

Multiple law enforcement agencies from off-island were called in to search for Merritt, who then allegedly assaulted a third victim, a 16-year-old BHS student, as she walked away from school.

The teen told police she noticed a blue car drive past her slowly a few times as she walked along Grow Avenue.

The teen said a man walked up to her a short time later and said, “You’re really pretty, what’s your name?”

The girl told police she did not know the man; he grabbed the front of her shirt, pulled it down, and touched her chest. She said she pushed him away and the man said, “You’re really hot,” before walking away.

Multiple law enforcement agencies from off-island were called in. Police were stationed near the ferry terminal and also near Agate Pass Bridge, as authorities established a containment perimeter and responded to multiple reports of Honda vehicles that had been seen on island streets and Highway 305.

Police finally cornered Merritt on Wyatt Way, about six blocks from the high school, after police boxed in his Honda and a patrol car rammed his vehicle to stop him.

Authorities later noted that Merritt had aimed his vehicle straight at Bainbridge Police Sgt. Trevor Ziemba while trying to escape, and also tried to hit Ziemba a second time while he was trying to elude police.

Police were able to pull Merritt out of his Honda after it was stopped. He resisted arrest and was injured, but not seriously, and Merritt spit blood in Ziemba’s face when he was being arrested, according to court records.

The 16-year-old later identified Merritt as the man who assaulted her.

No remorse

In Kitsap County Superior Court earlier this month, Merritt was sentenced separately for each charge.

He showed no remorse for his actions, officials noted, when he entered his plead of guilty.

Corrections officers who completed the pre-sentence investigation on Merritt said he would not participate in the pre-sentence investigation and invoked his 5th Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

“From the police report and eyewitness accounts of the crimes, it appears Mr. Merritt needs help with mental health and possible chemical dependence on marijuana,” the investigators said in their report. “Merritt will need to be closely watched by mental health professionals, as well as the Department of Corrections, once he is released from prison.”

The pre-sentence investigation recommended that Merritt receive a sentence of 116 months in prison and three years probation.

“There doesn’t appear to be any remorse for what he has done to the victims or community,” investigators noted.

“Merritt, according to the competency assessment, shows he does know right from wrong and had the ability to aid in his own defense,” the report added. “Furthermore the psycho-sexual evaluation concludes he may not be a high risk to re-offend but if he doesn’t engage in mental health treatment he could become prone to violence and sexual acting out. It should be recommended he be required to engage in mental health treatment while incarcerated and continued once he is released back into the community.

“What also appears to be an issue with Mr. Merritt is he should not be able to consume marijuana while in the community or supervision, it may hinder his ability to get full use of the medications to help with his stabilization in the community,” the report concluded.

Merritt was given 68 months for second-degree burglary with sexual motivation; 90 months for indecent liberties; 57 months for each count of second-degree assault; and a year plus one day for first-degree voyeurism and attempting to elude. Some of the confinement periods were ordered to be served consecutively, due to the sexual motivation of the crime, while other prison terms will be served concurrently.

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