Life sentence for 'absolutely senseless' murder outside Hellam Twp. bar

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
  • Murder victim Chad Merrill's mother is helping to launch a York chapter of the national group Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice at Lincoln Charter School at noon on Saturday, Nov. 2.

A Windsor man declined to speak in York County Court before he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for murdering Chad Merrill outside a Hellam Township bar last year.

James Saylor, 25, had no visible reaction to the anguished words of Merrill's family members, who spoke about their grief at Saylor's sentencing hearing Wednesday, Oct. 30.

"The wrong person died that night," the victim's brother, Richard Merrill Jr., said in court, adding that Chad Merrill was a loving, peaceable man. "James should be dead and Chad should be here."

Murder victim Chad Merrill, 25, was fatally shot outside the Red Rose Restaurant & Lounge in Hellam Twp. on July 21, 2018. Here he is seen with his son, Layton.

To Saylor, Richard Merrill said, "I really hope racist people like you stop reproducing so we can have peace (in this world)."

Chad Merrill "was a great all-around person" who was a good father, brother and uncle, according to his brother.

"He wanted nothing but love in this world," Richard Merrill said. "He hoped and dreamt big for his son and himself."

Their mother, Pearl Wise, brought to court a poster-size photo of her son and baby grandson and talked about how Chad Merrill grew up and became a man when his son Layton was born.

"He was so excited," she said. "From that moment on, everything changed for him."

Now, Layton must grow up without a father, she said.

"In a brief second, James took (my son) from me forever," she said. "Why, James?"

Wise said she watched Saylor during the man's murder trial and never saw any sign of remorse from him.

She also spoke about having joined a national group called Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

"I'm hoping it will help me heal," Wise said, adding she and others are starting a York chapter of the group.

The public is invited to the launch event, which will be held from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, at Lincoln Charter School, 559 W. King St. in York City. For more information, contact Wise at or Edquina Washington at

'Absolutely senseless': First deputy district attorney Seth Bortner told presiding Common Pleas Judge Maria Musti Cook that Chad Merrill's death "was absolutely senseless," then asked that she sentence Saylor to consecutive prison time for his lesser offenses.

James Saylor

"I understand you can't serve more than life," Bortner said, but he argued that consecutive time would be "a symbolic indictment" of Saylor's actions.

Cook agreed, sentencing Saylor to life in prison without parole plus nine to 18 months. She also ordered him to pay $6,889.56 in restitution primarily to Wise and to the state's Victims Compensation Assistance Program.

A jury on Sept. 26 took about 45 minutes to find Saylor guilty of first-degree murder, ethnic intimidation, harassment and reckless endangerment.

Defense attorney George Margetas said Saylor isn't a racist and was so drunk the night he shot Chad Merrill that he has no memory of what happened. Saylor will appeal his conviction, Margetas said.

The background: Chad Merrill, 25, of Lower Windsor Township, was fatally shot outside the Red Rose Restaurant & Lounge during the early-morning hours of July 21, 2018.

James Saylor

Before the murder, Saylor was kicked out of the bar for using racist slurs against Jerrell Grandison-Douglas, a black customer, according to authorities, who said Chad Merrill was friends with Grandison-Douglas.

Acccording to Bortner, Saylor arrived alone at the Red Rose, located at 5370 Lincoln Highway, about 12:40 a.m. July 21, 2018.

"Essentially James Saylor went to do two things: Have some drinks and start some fights," he told jurors at trial.

The national group Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice are launching a York chapter and invite the public to attend its launch event at noon Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, at Lincoln Charter School.

Grandison-Douglas came in shortly after Saylor and sat at the bar, according to Bortner. 

Saylor then asked, "Since when do we let (n—s) into the bar?" according to Bortner.

Grandison-Douglas tried to calm things down and offered to buy Saylor a drink, but Saylor did not want that, according to Bortner.

That's when bar staff kicked Saylor out, after which Chad Merrill went over to Grandison-Douglas to comfort him, Bortner said.

In the parking lot of the the Red Rose, Saylor pulled his gun out of his waistband and fired a shot at the building while he walked to his car, according to the prosecutor.

Saylor then got into his truck, backed it up and shot Chad Merrill, who had walked outside, Bortner said.

Saylor had been drinking since early in the afternoon the day before the killing, according to his attorney.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.