ST. LOUIS – They were women looking for love. And instead, met a nightmare.
Friday, the man called the "dating site stalker" started paying for his crimes.
Women from across the state said Robert Merkle harassed and threatened them with rape.
And now, finally, he's going to prison.
Absolutely, profoundly despicable. That's how Judge Darrell Missey described Merkle before handing down a three-year prison sentence.
"As soon as he used the word despicable, I feel like someone finally had finally listened. Someone saw he was a monster," said one Jefferson County woman who asked to remain anonymous. She asked us to hide her identity to protect her privacy.
She said she messaged with Merkle on Ok-Cupid in 2016.
When she declined to meet with him, she told the courtroom, he began texting her rape threats, following her, even calling her children to find out where she was.
"Law enforcement didn't take it seriously, prosecutors didn't take it seriously. I only came forward because the first victim came forward and did an interview with you. I only got movement on my case because of the media pressure," said the woman.
And that first victim was also in court to offer her support.
Angela Vories doesn't even remember meeting Merkle at a networking event last fall. But she said he soon began messaging her rape threats as well.
Charges stemming from that case are still pending in St Louis. But both women have found comfort in navigating their legal cases together.
"I'm exceptionally honored to get to know someone of the other women who've been victimized in this case. To feel they're validating my voice as I’m trying to be heard. I get to physically show up and be there a support so they know they're not alone," said Vories.
Both women were elated when Judge Missey handed down the maximum sentence Friday: three years in prison.
Merkle did not make a statement, but his lawyer told the Judge he was regretful.
It's a victory for his victims but it may not last long.
"Since he has served 150 days already, he'll be out soon. Very soon. Weeks," said the Jefferson County victim.
Merkle won't be transferred to the department of corrections for several days. He still has several open harassment charges against him in St Louis city.
There is also an effort underway to bring charges against Merkle in St. Clair county in yet another case reported by a woman who met him on a dating site.