Afghanistan war veteran who threatened Biden could avoid prosecution

  • In Politics
  • 2022-10-04 23:11:32Z
  • By Washington Post

A former Army paratrooper who admittedly threatened to kill President Biden is set to be released from federal custody Thursday after authorities agreed not to prosecute him if he undergoes treatment for mental health problems stemming from his combat experiences in Afghanistan, according to court filings.

Scott Merryman, 38, who served in Afghanistan for 15 months in 2007 and 2008 and was later diagnosed with various mental illnesses related to post-traumatic stress disorder, was in the throes of a "hyper-religious" psychotic breakdown this year when he made the threats against Biden in Facebook posts and phone calls to the White House and the Secret Service. He was arrested Jan. 27 in Maryland after traveling from his home in rural Kansas, vowing to "lop the head off the serpent in the heart of the nation" and "slay the Anti-Christ," as he called the president on social media.

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His attorneys and family members have long argued that Merryman is a psychiatric casualty of war, not a criminal, and that he belongs in a treatment facility, not a prison. After months of court wrangling, federal prosecutors and the chief judge of U.S. District Court in Maryland now appear to concur with the defense, based on an agreement finalized this week with Merryman and his main lawyer.

"I'm a very, very, very happy mom," Merryman's mother, Terry Bryant, said Tuesday from her home in Independence, Kan., in the southeastern corner of the state. "I told his lawyer: 'You went up against the government and you won! You should be proud of yourself!' Finally, Scott is going to get the help he needs."

The U.S. attorney's office in Maryland declined to comment on the deal.

Under the "deferred prosecution" agreement, filed in court Tuesday, the U.S. attorney's office agreed to put off prosecuting Merryman for up to 36 months. In the meantime, Merryman will be released from incarceration Thursday and immediately begin receiving inpatient treatment at a private mental health facility. The agreement includes provisions barring him from possessing weapons, consuming intoxicants, disrupting his treatment or "engaging in criminal activity," including threatening anyone.

The criminal case against him could resume if he breaks the agreement.

If Merryman "has successfully satisfied the requirements of this agreement," he can request to be released early, after 24 months, from mandated mental health treatment and supervision. Provided he cooperates in therapy and abides by other rules - whether he remains in treatment for 36 or 24 months - the charges against him will be dismissed "with prejudice," meaning they could not be refiled. He was charged in an indictment with threatening to harm the president and making threats in interstate communication, each punishable by up to five years in prison.

Since his return from deployment with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in 2008, Merryman's life has been marred by depression, guilt, outbursts of rage, "intrusive memories," alcohol abuse, opioid addiction, failed relationships, self-isolation and suicide attempts, according to hundreds of pages of mental health records reviewed by The Washington Post. He was initially diagnosed with PTSD in 2009, after what the Army said were his "multiple exposures to combat," and was honorably discharged based on his disability.

Over the years, in counseling with mental health professionals at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Merryman has said he is most haunted by a firefight with insurgents in an Afghan village in which he mistakenly machine-gunned a small girl.

After more than a decade of debilitating emotional ailments, Merryman suffered a psychotic breakdown late last year in which he became obsessed with the Bible's Book of Revelation, believing he was a God-anointed prophet of the world's final days, according to friends and loved ones. Soon afterward, he set out for the nation's capital.

After his medications were adjusted following his arrest, the delusions went away, although the PTSD remained, his lawyers said. From the beginning, they argued that he should be placed in a mental health facility for PTSD treatment while he awaited a trial, at which they intended to argue that he was not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. But prosecutors and Chief Judge James K. Bredar insisted that a defendant accused of threatening to kill the president should be kept behind bars under tight security.

Merryman's lead attorney, Sedira Banan, said her client's good behavior and apparent mental stability while in federal custody in recent months - along with evaluations conducted by government mental health experts - changed the minds of prosecutors and the judge, who agreed that Merryman could be released to get treatment in a private facility. Banan declined to comment further on the agreement.

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