Missouri Man Convicted of Sex Trafficking and Murdering Teen Found Stuffed in a Suitcase Files Appeal

James Merritt Haley Decker
James Merritt (left) is appealing his conviction after being charged with the murder of Haley Decker (right).MCSO, Facebook

Once presented with evidence, James Merritt said he knew Haley Decker and admitted to trafficking the teenager to men for sex, according to the affidavit. He alleged however that he kicked Decker out when he found out she had been smoking meth.

A Missouri man sentenced to life for sex trafficking a teenage girl and then murdering the 18-year-old is appealing his sentence in a new court filing.

A jury convicted James Merritt, 35, of second-degree murder,  armed criminal action, tampering with physical evidence, and trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation earlier this year, according to court records.

Those convictions stem from the death of 18-year-old Haley Decker,  whose body was discovered stuffed inside a suitcase at an Illinois wildlife refugee back in 2020.

Illinois State Police (ISP) released a statement at the time saying that troopers were eventually able to identify Decker through her fingerprints and discovered she had been reported missing a little over two weeks before a father and son discovered her body at the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide with the cause being blunt force trauma.

Once troopers confirmed the identity of the victim, they used "digital evidence" to trace Decker back to Merritt's home in Missouri, according to ISP.

The ISP obtained a search warrant and working alongside the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control conducted a raid of Merritt's home.

That search produced enough evidence to confirm that Decker had been at the home, allowing authorities to charge Merritt with trafficking.

Four days later, the New Madrid County prosecuting attorney filed three additional charges, including murder.

A probable cause affidavit filed by Corp. Christopher D. Hamlett outlines the final days of Decker's life.

The last known communication from Decker occurred on Jan. 25 when she sent a friend a message over social media which identified her location as Moorehouse, the Missouri town where Merritt lives, according to the affidavit.

Cellular records also put Merritt in the area of the wildlife refuge where Decker's body was discovered in a suitcase, according to the affidavit.

Authorities also found "visible staining, consistent with blood staining" on the wall of Merritt's home and in the trunk of his car, says the affidavit. The affidavit also notes that the blood in the car had been cleaned using some form of bleach.

Once presented with this evidence, Merritt confessed to knowing Decker, driving her to Missouri, and trafficking the teenager to men for sex, according to the affidavit.

He alleged however that he kicked Decker out when he found out she had been smoking meth, according to the affidavit.

The trial lasted three days this past January, and jurors returned with their verdict after just 90 minutes of deliberations.

Merritt did not take the stand and only one witness was called for the defense, something that Merritt points out in his 36-page handwritten appeal.

In that appeal, Merritt claims that there were two witnesses who could testify to seeing Decker alive in February and March 2020.

He also alleges in his appeal that Missouri has no jurisdiction over the case because Decker's body was discovered in Illinois.

Merritt's previous public defender did not respond to a request for comment, and he has not yet been assigned a public defender for his appeal.

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