MODESTO — For a quarter of a century, Cheryl Merrifield-Keim could not face the man who killed her only sister.
She never made it to Larry Martin's trial, which was two years after he shot and killed Georgine Merrifield while she waited at a red light at the intersection of Oakdale Road and Briggsmore Avenue in January 1988.
She was too distraught, too angry and too scared to attend Martin's sentencing of 27 years to life in prison, during which other family members had the opportunity to address their loved one's killer.
Even as recently as 2010, she couldn't bring herself to attend Martin's last parole hearing.
But Merrifield-Keim found the courage last week to go to his most recent parole hearing at the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Corcoran and finally had the opportunity to read her victim impact statement.
"Even though it has been 25 years since her death and I have gone on with my life, I have and will never be the same. I will never forgive this man for taking my sister away from me and my family," she said during the parole hearing. "The pain, the agony and the emotional beating we have all received as a family, we don't want another family to go through."
She read her statement, but Martin didn't hear. He wasn't present.
A defense attorney who appeared on his behalf informed the parole board that Martin agreed with prosecutors that he was currently unsuitable for parole.
"I was very nervous to see him. I kept waking up every two hours the night before," Merrifield-Keim said. "But I wanted to look into his eyes and look into the person who took her away from me and from my family. I wanted to have my say and I wanted to speak for her. I am a lot tougher now."
Hair shaking set him off
Martin and Georgine Merrifield, 29, were strangers. Immediately after shooting Merrifield multiple times in the chest with a .45-caliber pistol, Martin drove to the downtown men's jail and confessed. He told police he shot Merrifield because he didn't like the way she was playing with her hair.
Hair shaking caused violent reactions in Martin, as did lip smacking, key rattling and the sound of cash register drawers, according to testimony at his trial.
The now 65-year-old man was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and at the time deemed incompetent to stand trial.
He was held for several months at a state hospital but then returned to the Stanislaus County Jail to be prosecuted.
A jury in 1990 found him guilty of first-degree murder. Psychiatrists who testified at his trial disagreed about whether he was legally sane when he shot Merrifield, but the jury ultimately determined he was.
Mental health experts said during the trial that Martin hears phantom voices and hallucinates. He believed that he was controlled by an unknown agent and that people who did things to anger him were acting under the agents' influence.
The random and unexplainable murder of Merrifield-Keim's sister paralyzed her with fear and led to severe manic depression.
"I was petrified to leave my house, especially at night," she said. "I had to cut off relationships with friends who had sisters. For a year, I couldn't go by the corner where the shooting occurred."
Regression in recent years
During his 25 years of incarceration, Martin seems only to have regressed. According to the Stanislaus County district attorney's office, he stopped taking medication for his illness in 2001. As recently as October, Martin told a prison psychologist that no crime was committed and no one was killed.
Martin was found by the parole board to be unsuitable for parole, and another hearing was scheduled for 2018.
Although Merrifield-Keim's words didn't make it to Martin, she was pleased he will remain incarcerated at least five more years, and she plans to fight against his release at any future parole hearings.
"My sister never got to see me get married, and my parents and I never got to see her get married," she said.
"When my parents got sick, she couldn't be there to help make decisions about their care. My children never got to meet their aunt. Every day is still a struggle for me. My family and the community were totally ripped up when those four bullets went through her body."
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at email@example.com or (209)578-2366. Follow her on Twitter, @ModestoBeeCrime.