Mardela Springs Foster Father Pleads Guilty to Child Sex Charges - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Mardela Springs Foster Father Pleads Guilty to Child Sex Charges

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Stephen James Merritt Stephen James Merritt

SALISBURY, Md.- A Mardela Springs foster father charged with sexually abusing several boys under his care entered a guilty plea Tuesday morning.

Thirty-nine-year-old Stephen James Merritt appeared in Wicomico County Circuit Court where he pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual abuse of a minor and five counts of third-degree sexual offense. By pleading guilty, Merritt waived his right to a jury trial.

Merritt was ordered to be held without bond while awaiting sentencing, which is expected to occur within the next 60 days. According to the Wicomico County State's Attorney's Office, Merritt faces a maximum of 125 years in prison. 

During Tuesday's court proceedings, prosecutors stated that Merritt sexually abused eight boys while they were in his care from as far back as Jan. 1, 1998 to as recently as March 15, 2011.

One victim described the abuse as "more than just touching." He said Merritt also sent him inappropriate text messages and watching inappropriate sexual videos at the home located on the 24000 block of Main Street Extended.

According to prosecutors, the dozens of incidents happened at the home before and after school, apparently while Merritt's wife was at work.

The victims also alleged that Merritt threatened to kick them out of the home or "out" them if they alerted authorities to the abuse.

Two of the victims ultimately disclosed the abuse to workers from Mentor Maryland, the foster agency that placed them in Merritt's care.

In addition to the criminal case, three of the victims have filed civil lawsuits against both Merritt and Mentor Maryland.

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