Originally from New York, both of Merlin's parents were from the Dominican Republic. His mother pushed for a career in show business to keep him out of trouble and off the mean streets. He began as an advertising model for a fast-food chain at the age of 3. He first began getting noticed as Stanley, one of Rudy Huxtable's admirers, on the hit TV show "The Cosby Show" (1984). At 15, he co-starred in the short-lived sitcom "Getting By" (1993), alongside Cindy Williams and Telma Hopkins. His best-known role came in 1996 on the popular WB series "The Steve Harvey Show" (1996) as the smooth-talking Romeo Santana. Santana was murdered on November 9, 2002, in Los Angeles, California, while sitting in a car. He was only 26 years old.