Police find body in Orlando man's backyard while arresting him in unrelated homicide

ORLANDO, Fla. - An Orlando man accused of killing his neighbor may be charged in another homicide after police found a decomposing body buried on his property.

Jimmy Gary Merritt, 37, was arrested Tuesday after Orlando Police said an investigation revealed he cashed a check belonging to a Friday homicide victim and tried unsuccessfully to cash two more, according to an arrest report.

The victim - Benny Hallmark - was found dead of a gunshot wound, lying on a reclining chair in his home in the 3100 block of Lauressa Lane near Catalina Elementary School and Memorial Middle School about 11:15 a.m. Friday, according to the Orlando Police Department.

Hallmark and Merritt were neighbors, living only about 200 feet apart on Lauressa Lane. Police did not say whether the two knew each other.

Responding medics with Orlando Fire Department found the death suspicious, and called police to investigate. On Saturday, the Medical Examiner's Office ruled Hallmark's death a homicide, according to the report.

During the investigation, police said they discovered Merritt had stolen Hallmark's checks and tried to use them. They issued a warrant for Merritt on charges of grand theft, uttering a forged check and fraud, according to the Police Department.

On Tuesday, officers following up on the case spoke to a witness claiming Merritt confessed to killing another person and burying the body in his Lauressa Lane backyard.

Officers went to the home to wait until they could receive a search warrant, according to the Police Department. That's when Merritt came from around the corner and officers arrested him on the outstanding warrant, according to the Police Department.

Once officers received a search warrant, in the backyard they found a "badly decomposed body" wrapped in plastic and blankets buried under a large pile of wood and tools from the garage, according to the Police Department.

The body has not yet been identified and officials have not determined the cause of death, the Police Department said.

Police also found the firearm used in Hallmark's homicide.

Merritt faces a charge of first-degree murder in Hallmark's death, as well as the financial crimes.

Police said further charges are pending regarding the unidentified body. The medical examiner's report must first be completed.

Merritt has a criminal history in Orange County that includes convictions of aggravated battery and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, possession of a weapon by a felon and numerous drug offenses stemming back to 1997.

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