Victim of Attachment Therapy
Rural Harford, Maryland
Starved to death at age 8
January 22, 2005
Note: The following account has been prepared from press reports, personal interviews, trial transcripts, and other public records. See the webography for some of the extensive news coverage of the case.
The judge said the autopsy photos of Dennis Merryman, nearly 9 years old, looked like those of Nazi concentration camp victims. Dennis died January 22, 2005, of heart failure due to starvation, weighing only 37 pounds, with internal organs the size of a two year old. (Records show the boy weighed 40 pounds at the time of his adoption five years earlier.)
[Photo: WJZ Maryland]
Dennis was born Denis Uritsky. He was adopted in 2000, along with three other children, from Russia by Donna and Samuel Merryman, a couple who lived in rural Harford County (Whiteford), Maryland. Because the couple were Sunday school and home-school teachers, their children saw few outsiders.
Family and church members (Franklin Baptist Church) spoke of the Merrymans as loving parents and about Dennis having Reactive Attachment Disorder, a condition they claimed stunted his growth and made digestion a problem for the boy. They also claimed the boy suffered from rickets and cystic fibrosis. However, the boy had not been taken to a physician for over three years.
Key to the case was the testimony by the other Merryman children who were enlisted in the abuse of their brother. They claimed Dennis would be locked in his unheated room; denied food; tied up, put in a crib, with bells on him so that the parents could hear if he moved. He was allowed to wear clothes only on Sundays and holidays. He was also forced to walk up and down stairs until he passed out, falling down the stairs. His bathroom privileges were monitored.
Samuel and Donna Merryman
[Photo: WJZ Maryland]
Prosecutor Diane Tobin said, "Instead of rescuing them from Russia, they brought them to a sort of hell in Harford County."
In a plea agreement, the original murder charges were changed to a guilty plea to child abuse resulting in death. The Merrymans were then sentenced to 22 years in prison without parole, with three years credit for their prior home detention. The Merrymans claimed they had been overwhelmed by the behavior problems of their children. They have also been charged with the abuse of their other children who were sent to foster care.
An article in Pravda remarked about the deplorable lack of news coverage in the United States for the death of Dennis Merryman and other Russian children at the hands of their adoptive parents.
- “American family starves 8-year-old boy adopted in Russia to death,” Pravda, 8 Aug 2005.
- “Harford couple sentenced to 22 years after guilty plea in son's starvation death,” by Matthew Santoni, Harford Examiner, 18 Apr 2008.
- “Starvation case has senator asking questions,” by Suzanne Collins, WJZ, 20 Apr 2008.
- “Parents sentenced in starvation death of boy,” State's Attorney Office of Harford County, Maryland.
- “Merrymans sentenced in death of Dennis,” The Daily Bastardette, 18 Apr 2008.