Marcus Merge was fighting a life-threatening illness and struggling with drug addiction when someone killed him in his Edgewater apartment and stuffed his body into the refrigerator two years ago.
On Monday, prosecutors said the killer was Malik Lee, who was in an on-again, off-again relationship with Merge when he strangled the 58-year-old with an extension cord during an argument. A little less than a month before Merge was last seen alive, prosecutors charged Lee with an attempted vehicular hijacking in Edgewater. He was on bail for that case at the time of the murder.
Lee is the 53rd person accused of killing or shooting—or trying to shoot or kill—someone in Chicago during 2020 while awaiting trial for a felony. The alleged crimes involved at least 65 victims, 34 of whom died.
Merge’s friends remembered him fondly in a Chicago Tribune story shortly after his death.
[Sandra] Holloway said Merge was a sponsor in the Alcoholics Anonymous program, helping other men through recovery. He was passionate about “just helping people stay sober.”
Before his mother’s recent death, Merge would ride trains and buses to visit her in Lake Forest. An interior designer by profession, he would decorate the windows of her senior housing according to the seasons, Buckley said.
“He always made everybody feel very comfortable,” she said. “Marcus to me is nothing but kindness and welcoming, and I don’t know why anybody would want to do that to him.”
Lee and Merge met about a year before the murder. Assistant State’s Attorney Franka D’Antignac said they met often to eat, do drugs, and occasionally sleep together. Sometimes, Merge gave Lee and his family money. But their relationship soured.
Merge maintained a “detailed calendar” of their relationship, D’Antignac said during Lee’s bail hearing on the Fourth of July.
Racked by a disease that D’Antignac did not identify, Merge’s weight had fallen to just 121 pounds by June 28, 2020.
Around 4 p.m. that afternoon, surveillance cameras in his apartment building on the 5700 block of North Sheridan recorded Merge returning home with Lee. They argued as they boarded the elevator and went to the fifth floor, D’Antignac said. Merge was never seen outside his apartment again.
The argument continued inside the apartment, and Merge hit Lee, causing a cut near his eye, according to D’Antignac. Lee strangled Merge with his hands and then choked him from behind after he fell to the floor, she claimed. Lee continued strangling him with an extension cord, but Merge crawled away to the bedroom, she said.
Lee followed him, grabbed a pillow, and smothered Merge, eventually dragging him into the bathroom, D’Antignac continued.
When Lee realized Merge was dead, he went out and bought six bags of ice, which he used to keep Merge’s body chilled in the bathtub, according to D’Antignac. Lee later removed the shelves from Merge’s refrigerator and stuffed his body inside, she said.
A building manager found Merge’s body in the refrigerator during a well-being check on July 6. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide by strangulation.
Fingerprints were discovered on the refrigerator shelves, which had been hidden in a closet. Some prints matched a woman who works at the appliance manufacturer’s South Carolina factory. D’Antignac said the others matched Lee.
Testing of DNA material found on the extension cord and under Merge’s fingernails is pending.
Lee was arrested at the Skokie courthouse on Friday. He gave investigators a detailed statement and admitted to the murder, according to D’Antignac.
On June 5, 2020, just 23 days before Merge was last seen alive, prosecutors charged Lee with attempted vehicular hijacking. In that case, he is accused of brandishing a knife and ordering two people out of a car in the 1100 block of West Bryn Mawr. The driver of the car backed up and sought help.
A judge initially set bail in the carjacking case at $100,000 with electronic monitoring, according to records maintained by the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender. Court records that would show if the bail conditions were subsequently changed were not available due to the holiday. The carjacking case is still pending.
Lee was represented at his bail hearing on Monday by two private attorneys, Steve Pick and Dennis Doherty.
According to them, Lee, 24, has been undergoing psychotherapy treatment for ten years. He was born addicted to crack cocaine and was raised in Rogers Park by a minister.
Pick suggested that if Merge struck Lee in the face, Lee might have a self-defense claim.
“He did not have to kill him,” D’Antignac countered.
Judge Kelly McCarthy granted the state’s request to keep Lee in custody without bail.
Editor’s note: There is conflicting information about Lee’s age. Chicago Police Department records list it as 44. D’Antignac said he was 23 at the time of the alleged murder.
The “not horrible” series
This report continues our coverage of individuals who have been charged with murder, attempted murder, and shooting firearms while on bond for a pending felony case. CWBChicago began our series of reports in November 2019 after Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans publicly stated, “we haven’t had any horrible incidents occur” under the court’s bond reform initiative.
The actual number of murders and shootings committed by people on felony bail is undoubtedly much higher than the numbers seen here. Since 2017, CPD has made arrests in less than 5% of non-fatal shootings and 33% of murders, according to the city’s data. You can support CWBChicago’s work by becoming a subscriber today.
Previous 2020 cases
- At least 32 people charged with murder in Chicago last year were free on bail at the time of the killings (January 5, 2021)
- #33: We find another man accused of committing murder while on affordable bail in 2020 (January 9, 2021)
- Another man, free on bail for two felonies, charged with killing retired fireman in botched carjacking (January 22, 2021)
- #36: Man killed rival gang member while on bail for felony gun charge, prosecutors say (April 5, 2021)
- #37: Fellow gang member killed rapper Tray Savage while on bond for felony drug case, prosecutors say (April 26, 2021)
- #38: Man killed 20-year-old in Albany Park drive-by, prosecutors say (April 28, 2021)
- #39: No bail for man charged with shooting off-duty CPD officer in Brighton Park robbery attempt (Sun-Times)
- #40: Five-time felon, on electronic monitoring for gun case, killed man during Christmastime home invasion, prosecutors say (June 16, 2021)
- #41: AWOL on felony case for over a year, man’s accused of murdering one, shooting two others (June 30, 2021)
- #42: Man’s charged with two separate shootings while AWOL on burglary charge (September 8, 2021)
- #43: Prosecutors charge man with murdering woman in expressway shooting — while on felony bond (September 22, 2021)
- #44: Feds say man killed 1, wounded 2 outside Oak Street boutique — while on bail for felony gun case and on parole (October 14, 2021)
- #45: Man fatally shot his own passenger while trying to shoot another driver, prosecutors say. And he was on felony bond when it happened. (December 31, 2021)
- #46: Man is charged with killing a murder case witness while on felony bail (February 5, 2022)
- #47: Man stabbed drinking buddy to death while on bail for firing a gun during an argument, prosecutors say (February 5, 2020)
- #48 of 2020: Hijackers killed a man. Their alleged getaway driver was awaiting trial for a felony. (March 17, 2022)
- #49 #50 and #51: Our list of people accused of shooting (or shooting at) others while on felony bail in 2020 is growing longer today (March 21, 2022)
- #52: Man on bail for shooting his own son was found walking down an alley with a gun in his hand last week, prosecutors say (June 6, 2022)