WEST PALM BEACH (CBSMiami) –Paul Merhige, the South Florida man jailed for a 2009 Thanksgiving shooting rampage that left four family members dead including a 6-year-old girl, has changed his plea to guilty in exchange for seven consecutive life sentences, sparing him the death penalty.
In making his decision, Circuit Judge Joseph Marx said to Merhige, “You will never see the light of day.”
Merhige plead guilty in the deaths of his 73-year-old aunt Raymonde Joseph, his cousin’s 6-year-old daughter Makayla Sitton, and his 33-year-old twin sisters Carla Merhige and Lisa Knight, who was pregnant.
Judge Marx heard from several witnesses during the plea hearing Thursday including Makayla’s parents who were outraged when they first heard about the plea deal two days ago. Jim Sitton begged the judge to postpone the hearing so he could properly prepare a reply with his attorney.
“We’ve been waiting patiently for two years for this case to go to trial and suddenly the state wants to push this through. What’s the rush?” asked Sitton.
He explained how he begged prosecutors not agree to the plea deal.
“They’re afraid of what the jurors might do, afraid of the unknown,” said Sitton. “The one thing I do know is that justice for Mikayla is not life, it is death.”
Sitton recalled the horror of that fateful night as he and his wife tried to get to their daughter before Merhige.
“I was at the window, trying to break into her window,” Sitton said. “I didn’t know it was hurricane glass and I was bouncing off the window like a bug. I heard her gasp and then I heard the shots and I saw the flashes of light coming through the window.”
Muriel Sitton, Makalya’s mother, also told the judge just what she saw when Merhige went on his rampage.
“The way he looked in our home that night was a cold-blooded killer,” Muriel said, “that without remorse, without mercy, just gunned down our family members and would have killed more of us had we not escaped out of the house.”
Lisa Knight’s husband was also shot that night and spent three months in a medically induced coma.
Patrick Knight, who lost his wife and unborn child, told the judge he just wanted it to end. He agreed with the prosecutions plea deal decision because he didn’t want to see Merhige out on the street in the future if a jury were to find him guilty by reason of insanity during trial.
The night of the massacre, Thanksgiving dinner was just winding down at the Sitton home when Merhige got a gun and opened fire. After a five-week manhunt, he was finally captured on January 2nd, 2010 on Long Key.
The Sittons and Knight have each filed a suit against Merhige’s parents, Michael and Carole, claiming they knew of their son’s “dangerous propensities” and failed to protect their relatives.
The Merhiges have denied that claim.
While the Sitton’s asked for the plea deal to be denied, Muriel took solace in the fact he’ll never get out of prison.
“In the end, he has gotten death,” Muriel said. “He’s gotten death in prison. And we know that in the end, he will not come out, except in a box.”
Jim Sitton was more pointed in his criticism of the deal and his hope for justice to be served.
“I now have more faith in the prisoners, the fellow inmates at Stark to take justice than I do in the State Attorney’s Office,” Jim said. “Because at least in prison, they know what to do with baby killers.”
While the Sittons were upset about the plea deal, they do have a reason to celebrate.
The Sittons are expecting another child. Muriel, 50, is five months pregnant with a girl.