Woman living in fear while her rapist remains at large

Jessica Merritt said she wants to get on with her life, but she hasn't been able to since her former boyfriend, John C. Buckley IV, disappeared last week, just before he was found guilty of raping her and other crimes.

"I can't go back to work and I can't go back to my house or anything," said Merritt, 28, of Lexington who has been in hiding since July 12.

"I've been watching the news a lot and just trying to wait and see. Hopefully they can catch him soon and everything can go back to normal," she said.

The Herald-Leader typically does not identify victims of sexual abuse, but Merritt said she came forward to help police find Buckley and prevent more people from getting hurt.

"I feel like he's so dangerous that everybody should know about it," she said. "I really feel he would do this to someone else, if given the chance."

Merritt, a certified nursing assistant who specializes in caring for elderly people, said she misses the married couple she had been caring for.

"They're like my grandparents," she said.

She also misses her husband, a Marine sergeant serving in Afghanistan, she said. Her husband has been able to stay in regular contact with her by cellphone and computer while overseas, so that helps, she said. The couple married in April.

"My dog is with me. Someone else is watching my cats," she said.

On July 12, Merritt was whisked into a small room off the courtroom where Buckley's trial was held after court and law enforcement officials realized that Buckley had disconnected a tracking device from his ankle and wasn't coming back to the courthouse, said Mary Houlihan, director of victim services for the Fayette commonwealth's attorney's office.

"People all around were trying to figure out what to do next," she said.

Houlihan said she and law enforcement officers stayed with Merritt "until we could determine her safety overnight. Then we worked on getting her out of town."

Police protection also was provided for assistant commonwealth's attorneys who prosecuted the case, she said.

Merritt said police have also been watching her parents' home.

Merritt said she and Buckley had dated for about a year and a half before he raped her two years ago. Before he raped her, he had never been violent toward her, she said. He'd had a number of physical fights with men, but never attacked her, she said.

A video of the incident, a portion of which Merritt said Buckley forced her to record, clearly shows that the sex it depicts was not consensual, she said. The video was shown to jurors.

"I'm crying and yelling in pain throughout the entire thing. Anyone who's seen the tape — there's no doubt in their minds that it was not consensual," she said.

"Everyone's main concern is that he be caught before he hurts anybody else," Merritt said. "He needs to pay for the crime he committed."

Buckley, 29, a former Army Ranger who served several tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, was out of jail on bond during his trial. Wearing the ankle monitor was a condition of his release. He was found to be missing after court officials and attorneys were notified that the jury had reached a verdict.

The jury found Buckley guilty of two counts of first-degree sodomy, one count of first-degree rape, one count of fourth-degree assault, and one count of unlawful imprisonment. The jury recommended a 20-year sentence.

Law enforcement agencies throughout the country were notified to be on the lookout for Buckley.

A rental car Buckley used to leave the Lexington area was found late Thursday by Georgetown police, according to a news release from the Fayette County sheriff's office.

The local sheriff's office has received several tips as to Buckley's possible whereabouts and is continuing to follow up on all leads, the release said.

Lexington police spokeswoman Sherrelle Roberts has said that Buckley's Army training gives him the ability to "engage in defensive and combative tactics at a very high level" and that people should not approach him or try to take him into custody.

"I'm worried about my son. I'm worried about homicide by cop, and I'm worried about suicide by cop," said Buckley's father, John Calvin Buckley III, a lawyer living in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"There are two sides to every story," the elder Buckley said. "My son is not a monster and he wasn't raised by monsters."

He said some people run because they're monsters and they really are guilty, and others run because they are scared and they might be innocent. He said he put his son in the latter category.

"It's convenient to turn him into Rambo. That works well for the commonwealth (prosecutors)," he said.

The elder Buckley said the video recording of his son and Merritt is "horrific," but indicated that what is depicted on the recording was consensual.

"It was horrible. You could be convicted on the tape alone," he said. But, he said, aberrant sex might be horrible, but it's not illegal.

"I wish my son had never ever, ever, ever, ever met her," he said. He said he was not trying to say Merritt is a bad person, "but her world view and mine are 180 degrees out."

Buckley III said he has no equity in his house and no savings.

"Everything went to the defense of my son and I didn't expect him to flee," he said.

Buckley said he had "zero clue" where his son might be.

If he could send his son a message, he said, "I'd tell my son right now that I love him; there is no irredeemable sin; come home."

Houlihan said that Merritt has handled her situation with "absolute bravery and class" and said Merritt is her hero.

As for Buckley IV, she said, "I absolutely respect that he had served in the military and done things that were good at some point, but what he is now doing are criminal acts."

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