During interviews with investigators, a suspended Chestatee High School band director changed his story about an alleged sexual relationship with a student, according to testimony by a Hall County Sheriff’s Office investigator.
Daniel Berry Merck, 50, was accused Oct. 3 of having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl in 2016. He was charged with sexual exploitation of children and sexual assault by a person of supervisory authority.
The case started with a call from Chestatee High School Principal Suzanne Jarrard, Investigator Joel Ayers said during a committal hearing Oct. 18 in Hall County Magistrate Court.
Ayers said Jarrard had already spoken with the student and supplied information to the investigators.
Through the investigation, Ayers said they learned of multiple alleged sexual encounters between September and late November or early December 2016.
Investigators spoke with Merck, who initially denied the sexual relationship.
“Did he subsequently change his story and admit to these allegations?” Defense attorney Blake Poole asked.
“Yes,” Ayers said.
Assistant District Attorney Harold Buckler asked Investigator Jerry Phillips why he and Detective Adam Faulkner left the interview room at one point.
“Prior to myself and Investigator Faulkner leaving the interview room, Mr. Merck had requested to speak with his wife,” Phillips said.
Poole argued initially if the prosecution wanted to play a portion of the interview then his client is entitled to have it played in its entirety for context, which would have lasted multiple hours.
Poole later objected to part of the tape being played that would have shown a conversation between Merck and his wife.
“I’m not going to listen to the part of the tape of the conversation with he and his wife,” Judge Margaret Gregory said. “There is a privilege … I don’t think I need to view their private conversation.”
Ayers also testified about a lewd photo being sent to Merck, though no images have been retrieved.
Poole argued there was a lack of evidence proving Merck’s intent to receive such a photo or that this alleged offense happened in Hall County.
“The officer testified he doesn’t know where she was when she sent it or where he was when he received it,” Poole argued.
Gregory sent both charges on to Superior Court.