Justice at Last for Jennifer Whipkey

The decade-old West Deptford slaying had remained unsolved for several years.

Jennifer Whipkey's family waited more than a decade for justice. 

It finally arrived Thursday afternoon, when a jury found Whipkey's killer guilty. 

A state Superior Court jury in Woodbury convicted Brian Mertz, 34, of first-degree murder in Whipkey's 2002 death. 

Whipkey’s body, stabbed and slashed more than 60 times, was found in a wooded area off Woodbury Terrace in West Deptford on May 26, 2002.  A newspaper delivery employee stumbled upon the body. The victim, the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, was last seen alive at Adelphia nightclub in Deptford in the early hours of May 25. The body’s location was 160 feet from the door of Westwood Motor Lodge, where Mertz had been staying at the time.

Whipkey, 22, was from the Clarksboro section of East Greenwich, Gloucester County. 

Mertz became a prime suspect in Whipkey's slaying after DNA from semen in her body matched a DNA sample Mertz had given after a cocaine possession conviction in 2005, according to the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office. But, the case remained unsolved. 

Finally, after an exhaustive investigation that looked at more than 80 potential suspects, Mertz was arrested on murder and sexual assault charges on Dec. 21, 2008.

Following his conviction, Mertz, a Woodbury resident, faces a minimum sentence of 30 years in state prison. Judge Walter L. Marshall Jr. on Thursday revoked Mertz's bail. Mertz's sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 4, 2013.  

On a defense motion, Marshall dismissed the sexual assault counts against Mertz during the trial, over the prosecution's objection. 

The jury deliberated for 17 hours over five days after a nine-day trial that played out over a month. The trial was only heard two days per week due to court scheduling. 

After the verdict, prosecutors said they were relieved. 

"After 10 long, arduous years of work on this case, Jennifer Whipkey and her family, including her mother, Liz McCool, finally saw justice served today in this terrible, terrible crime," Gloucester County Prosecutor Prosecutor Sean Dalton said. (For more, see Prosecutors React to Verdict in Trial of Jennifer Whipkey's Killer.)

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