The husband of Jane Merz, who was sentenced earlier this month for not giving her stillborn baby a proper burial, appeared for sentencing in Adams County Court of Common Pleas on Tuesday. In a previous hearing, Keiven Merz had entered a voluntary plea of guilty to tampering with evidence and was found guilty of the third degree felony.
“The facts of this case are horrible,” said Sarah Shelton, who served as public defender for Keiven Merz.
Shelton said she paid her first visit to Merz when he was first brought to the Adams County Jail in July, following a possible suicide attempt. He had crashed his car into a tree, and during the investigation by sheriff deputies, a family member revealed the existence of the deceased infant. Shelton was called back to the jail several hours later when Merz made another attempt to end his life.
During the hearing on Tuesday, Merz was described by Shelton as still emotional, still remorseful. He was under on-going treatment at Shawnee Mental Health since the time of his arrest. He was 100 percent in charge of the couple’s four surviving children, but unemployed and living with family.
After Shelton’s introduction, Merz told his story about the events leading up to his arrest: He had been employed in a job that took him away from home, and his wife became pregnant when he was not around (her testimony had been that she was raped by an unknown assailant at a New Year’s party). In September of that year (2011 according to Jane Merz) he returned to find that she was no longer expecting the baby, but he was not told where the baby was (Mrs. Merz had stated that the baby was stillborn and that she had not had medical attention during the pregnancy or birth).
Continuing his story, Merz said after a few months he went to a local attorney to find out where the baby was. Then he heard from a couple of family members that she had given birth at the house they were living in.
Keiven Merz stated that one day he was working at home outside when the children brought out a blue tote that they had found in a closet inside (Jane Merz had told investigators that she wrapped her stillborn baby in a towel and sheet, placed the infant in a plastic container, and put the container in a closet). He described a horrific odor coming from the tote, and when he opened it, he said, he discovered insects covering some bed clothing inside. He took the tote to the burn pile and poured a flammable liquid on it to burn it. He said that they had been smelling something unpleasant in the house, but hadn’t been able to determine where it was coming from.
Months later, he said, he began wondering if what he had burned could have been his wife’s baby.
“We weren’t talking,” he said.
He told the court that he went back to the burn pile and picked up several pieces of bone (according to the court record, parts of the infant’s skull, leg and pelvis).
“Thinking about my children, I felt sick,” Merz said. “When I pictured my wife having a child at the house - we’re in the 2000s - I wondered how we had gotten to this point, turning our backs on the world, on our children.”
He said when he realized that the tote contained a baby, not an animal, he didn’t know what to do. He did save the bones he had found and placed them at a family member’s home. After consulting with Shelton during a brief recess in the hearing, Merz discussed having thought of using the bones against his wife in divorce proceedings.
Judge Brett M. Spencer stated that Jane Merz was sentenced to community control, but the difference in Keiven Merz’ case was that he had the thought process to gather infant remains as leverage in divorce proceedings. Merz also had a pattern of drug abuse according to his court record and prior convictions, and the judge said that he is intolerant of drug abuse.
However, Spencer said that the law does not allow for the court’s personal disdain, and that looking at the needs of the children, there was no benefit at this time for a prison term. He also indicated that Merz was responsive to community sanctions.
The sentence he ordered was three years of probation, beginning with a period of intensive supervision; a fine of $2,000 with the demand that the child gets a proper burial as soon as the remains can be legally removed from evidence, with an amount equal to that of Jane Merz waived, up to $1,000 once the burial takes place; 200 hours of community service; 200-300 hours of cognitive therapy; he must obtain a GED; and if mentally capable upon completion of therapy, he must obtain employment within nine months and will not be prevented by the court to work out of state as in his previous employment.