published Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Court reverses ex-youth pastor's 225-year sentence in rape of 3 boys

NASHVILLE — Tennessee's Court of Criminal Appeals has reversed a 225-year sentence for a former youth pastor convicted of raping three boys as a juvenile.

In an opinion filed on Tuesday, the court ordered that Tavaria Merritt be resentenced to 50 years in prison.

Merritt pleaded guilty to raping the boys, ages 10 and 11, while he was serving as a youth pastor at their Lebanon church in 2009. He was 17 years old when he committed the crimes.

On Tuesday, the appeals court ruled that the original sentence was excessive. The court found the trial court judge erred by substituting his own experience for the evidence in the record when determining the damage suffered by the victims.

One of the three appeals judges dissented, saying a 75-year sentence was more appropriate.

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