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Paul Merhige pleads guilty
Thu Oct 27, 2011 9:14pm

Thanksgiving Killer Pleads Guilty, Avoids Death Penalty in Plea Deal

The man accused of gunning down four family members during a 2009 Thanksgiving dinner in Jupiter has agreed to plead guilty in a deal with prosecutors that will allow him to avoid the death penalty.

Paul Merhige was in Palm Beach County Court Thursday, where he agreed to withdraw his not guilty plea in exchange for avoiding capital punishment.

Merhige, who was charged with four counts of first-degree murder, will serve seven consecutive life sentences.

"You will never get out of jail, do you understand that?" Merhige was asked by Judge Joseph Marx.

"Yeah," said Merhige, who told the judge he was on anti-depressants and anti-psychotics.


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Authorities say Merhige calmly sat through his Turkey Day dinner before retrieving his gun and opening fire. When the smoke had cleared, four people were dead, including his sisters, Carla Merhige and Lisa Merhige Knight, aunt Raymonde Joseph, and 6-year-old Makayla Sitton, the daughter of his cousin.

Merhige went on the run but was finally captured 40 days after the shooting in a motel in the Keys.

Family members of Merhige were given time to make comments at Thursday's hearing, with his parents speaking first.

"I miss my daughters so much...they would have been such great mothers," mother Carole Merhige said, with husband Michael at her side. "I have lost three children in one day, my house was broken in one day."

Makayla's father, Jim Sitton, spoke next, giving an impassioned plea to delay the proceedings.

"We need time to make sure we do the right thing in this case," said Sitton, who said he wanted Merhige to face the death penalty. "This has forever left a wound...that never truly will heal."

Sitton called it a travesty that Merhige wouldn't face the death penalty.

"We fought to the bitter end for our daughter Makayla, I feel like I failed her again," he said.

Muriel Sitton, Makayla's mother, held up a framed photo of her daughter and pleaded for Marx to make Merhige face a jury.

She said the pain was doubled with the loss of Joseph, her mother, and added that she was pregnant with a daughter but that "someone will always be missing."

But Patrick Knight, Lisa's husband, who was also shot by Merhige but survived, said he agreed with the plea deal and it was time to move on.

"I don't want to go through appeals for 30 years," Knight said.

Judge Marx said he sympathized with the Sittons, but ultimately accepted the deal.

"You cannot let this event define who you are. If you do, he's destroyed another life," Marx said. "The best thing you can do is live a joyful, productive, adventurous life."

Merhige's trial was expected to begin in January, but now he'll head straight to prison.

"You will never see the light of day," Judge Marx said, before officers took Merhige away.

"The defendant’s offer to plead guilty to all counts of the indictment and accept seven consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole was an appropriate resolution to the case," State Attorney Michael McAuliffe said in a statement. "The guilty pleas and sentence meet the most important criteria for justice – they result in a public and final admission of responsibility for all crimes and in the most severe punishment possible short of death."

The Merhige saga isn't completely over. The Sittons and Knight have filed separate lawsuits against Carole and Michael Merhige, claiming the couple should have known their son would go on a murderous rampage.

The attorney for Carole and Michael Merhige has called the lawsuits "absurd."

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