GREENVILLE COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – Greenville County Sheriff Hobart Lewis announced Tuesday afternoon that an arrest had been made in regard to a 2015 homicide cold case.
During a news conference, Lewis announced that Jason “Travis” Merrill, 45, was arrested by the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office, the Brevard Police Department and the North Carolina SBI on murder, arson, possession of a weapon during a violent crime, financial ID fraud, financial transaction card fraud and second-degree computer crimes charges.
The charges stem from an investigation into the death of Merrill’s former roommate, Cecil “Sandy” Morris.
Lewis said Morris’ body was found on Oct. 30, 2015 after deputies responded to a fire at a home on Michael Drive in Greenville.
Morris’ body was found in the basement of the home and was reportedly in the beginning stages of decomposing.
According to Lewis, Morris’ body had sustained at least one gunshot wound, which resulted in his death.
Lewis said the exact date of Morris’ death is unknown, but said they believe he was killed prior to the fire being set, which was estimated to be sometime in mid-to-late October.
“We also learned that the victim’s car was missing. A vehicle that was recovered within a day at a residence in Brevard, N.C.,” Lewis said.
One of Merrill’s relatives reportedly lived at the home where the car was recovered.
“Merrill was not located at this time,” Lewis said. “At the time of the initial investigation, we learned from neighbors and family that Morris had express that he was fearful of his roommate, Mr. Merrill.”
Following the initial investigation, the case went cold due to lack of forensic evidence.
“We believe that following the shooting, Mr. Merrill fled to Brevard, NC to stay with family, where Sandy’s vehicle was ultimately located,” Lewis said. “The initial problems in the investigation from 2015 were while we received concerning information regarding Sandy’s roommate, Mr. Merrill, there was not enough forensic evidence at the time to solidify probable cause to obtain a warrant, thus the case went cold.”
Lewis said since retooling the department’s Cold Case Unit, he had investigators re-examine the case, which led to investigators to Merrill’s flight manifest. Investigators also looked into phone records, forensic evidence and uncovered surveillance footage that led them to Merrill.
Merrill’s manifest reportedly showed that he had flown to California at some point during the Oct. 18 and Oct. 28 time frame.
“We learned that in 2016 warrants for a financial transaction fraud were completed and computer crimes were obtained against Mr. Merrill for adding his name to the victim’s credit card account, fraudulently using them in the amount of thousands of dollars,” Lewis said. “Up until this past week, those warrants remain active against Mr. Merrill. We learned that when Mr. Merrill returned on Oct. 28 that he checked into a local hotel, where he maintained possession of the victim’s vehicle.”
Lewis said they believe that Merrill returned to the Michael Drive home on Oct. 30 at around 5 a.m., set the home on fire and then went to a relative’s home in Brevard, N.C., where he was taken into custody on Nov. 20, 2020.
Morris’ neighbor Linda Patterson said she walked with him every day.
“After my husband passed away, he did things for me…just a good person. Very, very good person,” Patterson said.
According to the release, an exact motive in Morris’ death remain unclear.