Not-guilty verdict caps trial for man charged with sexually assaulting autistic woman

·3 min read

A Boonsboro man charged with sexually assaulting an autistic woman in 2018 was found not guilty following a three-day trial earlier this month.

Paul Wesley Merson, 82, had been charged with second-degree rape, third-degree sex offense, second-degree assault and physical abuse or injury to a vulnerable adult, according to court records.

He was found not guilty of all counts following a June 9 bench trial before Washington County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Brett R. Wilson, according to defense attorney Carl Somerlock.

A relative of the victim had told police that the autistic woman was assaulted at a caregiver’s residence, according to the charging document filed against Merson.

The victim told a Washington County Sheriff’s Office detective that Merson began touching her about two weeks before the report of the incident and that the contact was progressively intimate.

The Washington County Courthouse, which houses circuit court, is seen in this undated file photo.
The Washington County Courthouse, which houses circuit court, is seen in this undated file photo.

In an audio recording of Wilson’s discussion of the trial before announcing his verdict, he described testimony that DNA collected from the victim’s underwear was likely from a male in the Merson family with a 1 in 8,600 chance that it could be from someone else as “not conclusive, but certainly persuasive.”

Wilson also noted that there was testimony that DNA can be transferred to and from surfaces, and that other male members of the Merson family had been in the caregiver’s home. He said there was testimony that the victim changed clothes in a bathroom used by Merson.

Testimony was offered that the victim was touched in a room adjacent to the kitchen, where others were preparing dinner, he said.

Defense witnesses testified that Merson was outside that day until he went directly to the dinner table, according to Wilson.

Wilson noted his concern with the victim’s earlier statement “that she was to wear a dress on Thursdays, specifically, and that they were going to have more fun next time and that they were going to have more playing in the bed.

“It seems somewhat incredible to this court that … the next time would be in a bed with a house full of people, that they would somehow slip away for a significant amount of time,” he said.

“The court does have a reasonable doubt, founded upon reason, that the touching itself could have occurred under the circumstances of the credible testimony and evidence that has been admitted today,” Wilson said. “Because the court does have a reasonable doubt, it is bound by law to find the defendant not guilty.”

In a June 16 telephone interview, Somerlock said the victim’s testimony was inconsistent with what she told officials earlier. He also referenced testimony that the DNA found on her underwear could have transferred there from a source other than direct contact with Merson.

“I truly believe that he’s not guilty of what he was charged with,” Somerlock said. “I’m very happy with the results.”

In an emailed statement recently, Washington County State’s Attorney Gina Cirincion disagreed.

“The victim testified credibly, and consistently with statements she made almost four years ago,” Cirincion wrote. “The DNA evidence supported the victim’s statement.

“The State is very disappointed in this verdict."

Somerlock said Merson’s relief by the verdict was evident during a dinner outing he attended with the Merson family a couple days after the trial.

“You could see in his face that the stress was lifting and his health maybe even recovered a little bit, I’m hoping,” Somerlock said.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Paul Wesley Merson of Boonsboro found not guilty of sexual assault