PEND OREILLE COUNTY, Wash. — A Pend Oreille Co. judge sentenced Claude Merritt on Friday to nearly 28 years in prison for the murder and kidnapping of Jason Fox. Merritt will get credit for time served and 36 months of community custody.
This is the high end of the sentencing range for Merritt’s murder and kidnapping charges, and exactly what the family of Jason Fox asked for in their victim impact statements.
"It doesn't bring Jason back. It absolutely does not make anything right. But it's good to know he got the maximum he could get in Washington state and we feel good about that," Michael Fox, Jason's father, said after the sentencing.
Judge Lech J. Radzimski explained his reasoning for the sentence in court.
"When I came out here, I had one idea of what was going to happen and I was waiting for you and I wanted to hear what you were going to say... but your anger this morning, your lack of empathy for the family. You've turned this entire thing about you," Judge Radzimski said. "And I looked for some kind of spark, for lack of a better term, of humanity or decency that you would recognize the people that bared their soul for you this morning... So, ultimately, I do conclude in this situation that the top end is what's appropriate,"
In January, a jury found Claude Merritt guilty on multiple charges including the first-degree murder of Fox.
The family of Jason Fox believes his murder was a hate crime.
On Oct. 4, 2020, law enforcement found Fox’s body in an isolated area in Newport. They say he was buried in a shallow grave with his hands tied behind his back.
Pend Oreille County Prosecutors say Merritt lured Fox to a shop at 22 Yergens. There, he was tied up and beaten, then taken to a 4-foot deep hole and buried there.
In closing arguments, the Pend Oreille County Prosecutor Dolly Hunt told the jury they believe Merritt, also known as CL, played a major role in this murder.
"The testimony was that Claude Merritt kneed Jason in the face in the shop office that night. Claude Merritt stomped on Jason in the back of that side-by-side," Hunt said. "Claude Merritt is the one that places Jason on his knees at the edge of that grave."
Merrit’s defense attorney Dennis Morgan insisted none of the evidence admitted in court proved his involvement in these crimes.
“CL’s DNA wasn't there, CL’s fingerprints weren’t there, CL’s blood was only in that bathroom. The shoes of all four were tested, no evidence was found on CL's shoes," Morgan said. "The ranger was searched and examined. There was no evidence connecting CL to Ranger other than he and Jason riding around on it that night having fun.”
WATCH MORE: Jason Fox's family reflects on murder verdict