4 more boys accuse Wicomico foster father of sex abuse

Mardela man was already charged with abusing three others

2:52 AM, Jul. 1, 2011 |

SALISBURY -- A Mardela Springs foster father charged in the sexual abuse of three male teens was indicted this week after four additional boys alleged he sexually abused them as well.

A grand jury indicted Stephen James Merritt, 39, on sex abuse of a minor, sex offense and child abuse charges on Monday.

In the most recent case, four additional victims were identified while police were investigating previous allegations of abuse against Merritt, according to the Wicomico County State's Attorney's Office.

The newest victims were between the ages of 12 and 13 at the time of the incidents, which occurred from 1998- 2007.

Merritt has been held at the Wicomico County Detention Center on $500,000 bond since March after two male foster teens reported he sexually abused them from May 1, 2008, through March 14 of this year while living in his home in the 24000 block of Main Street Extension, according to police. Investigators charged him with sex offense, assault and attempted sodomy.

Jamie Dykes, the Wicomico County assistant state's attorney prosecuting the case, requested the judge set bail for Merritt at $50,000 in the current case during a Circuit Court hearing Thursday.

Dykes also asked the judge to impose conditions on his bail similar o those in the other two case.

"I request (he have) no contact with the victims," Dykes said in court.

Judge W. Newton Jackson III set bail at $250,000, meaning Merritt would have to post the initial $500,000, plus the newly imposed $250,000 to get out of jail.

He was charged with sex offense, sex abuse of a minor and assault after allegedly making a "partial admission" to the allegations during an interview with investigators, according to court documents.

Merritt was again charged later the same month after a third male foster teen made similar allegations, according to charging documents. The male victim alleged the abuse started about a month after he went to live in Merritt's home in November 2003. He was 13 years old at the time.

Merritt is one of two Mardela Springs foster fathers charged in the sexual abuse of foster children in their care. His uncle, 51-year-old Tracy Grant Bayne, was also taken into police custody in March after an investigation by the Wicomico County Child Advocacy Center. Three male foster children alleged the foster fathers, whose houses are located about 151 feet apart, abused them in unrelated incidents while living in the homes.

The victims were placed in the care and custody of Bayne and Merritt by MENTOR Maryland, a private foster care placement agency, according to the State's Attorney's Office.

One of the victims told police he did not stop Merritt or report the alleged abuse because he did not want to be removed from the home, according to investigators.

According to court documents, the alleged incidents occurred in the victim's bedroom inside the Merritt home, an old chicken coop that has now been converted to a wood shop and storage area, and inside a motel Merritt was remodeling, according to court documents.

The investigation is ongoing, and officials are asking anyone with further information on Bayne and Merritt, or other potential victims to contact the Wicomico County Child Advocacy Center at 410-713-3497.