Polk teens charged with murder in fatal house fire

- The Polk County Sheriff's Office has charged two teenagers with first-degree murder in connection with a fatal house fire.

The fire happened on January 11 at 67-year-old Donald Merkley's home on Timberline Road in Winter Haven.

Detectives initially believed the fire was caused by a small electric heater, but the fire soon turned into a homicide investigation.

According to the Sheriff's Office, 18-year-old Jerry Johnsey and 16-year-old Byron Lasiak intended to rob the victim. Deputies said the suspects choked and hit Merkley with a baseball bat. The teens then set the house on fire in an attempt to cover up the homicide.

The suspects have both been charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit robbery and robbery with a weapon. Johnsey also faces an arson charge.

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