Preparations have been underway inside the courtroom for the Paul Michael Merhige plea hearing. Sheriff's deputies were explaining to us, the media, the ground rules for the hearing (i.e. Where we can sit, where we can't, what time we're allowed inside the courtroom). This case isn't just being covered by the local media. Earlier, I saw a truck from one of the Miami stations parked outside the courthouse.
The bailiff locked the courtroom door. People keep approaching it, not realizing they can't get in just yet. We were told we can line up around noon to try to get a seat inside.
Jim Sitton: Why are you taking a plea? It doesn't make sense
Jim: I plead for you... don't snatch what little we have left in our lives and that is justice for our little girl.
Muriel Sitton: This hearing has been rushed
Muriel Sitton shows the judge a picture of her daughter
Muriel Sitton: I myself still suffer from trauma and flashbacks from that night
Jim Sitton, the father of one of the victims, Makayla, said this plea deal is "Highly inappropriate and unacceptable. He said, "This lock of hair is all we have left of our daughter" as he held up a piece of Makayla's hair. Sitton said, "I had to keep my hand over the bullethole in her (Makayla) head so my wife couldn't see the oozing wound inflicted over my baby's head.."Paul Merhige just looked in their general direction, with a blank stare on his face.
Muriel Sitton: I'll never forget my daughter being taken out on a stretcher
Muriel Sitton: There were many months when I didn't think I could go on
Muriel Sitton: Our house remains silent.
Muriel Sitton: I will never hear her voice saying 'Momma I love you'
Muriel Sitton: I grieve my mother every day
Muriel Sitton: We plead with you not to accept this plea
Jim Sitton knelt down and the judge told him to stop
Patrick Knight is the next to speak to the judge
Knight was shot on Thanksgiving night
Makayla's mother, Muriel, pleaded with the judge not to accept this plea. "Our house remains silent." She said that every day she asks herself how she can go on. "I felt my very heart ripped out of me."Then, suddenly, Jim Sitton got down on his knees to plead with the judge to not accept the plea deal. Judge Joseph Marx repeatedly said, "Stop. Please stop.". He was escorted back to his seat.
Knight: For him (Merhige) after today I hope he's forgotten
Knight: I don't want to go through appeals for 20 or 30 years
Knight: I have a different point of view, I want to move on
Judge Joseph Marx... It's abundantly clear that everyone hear is suffering
Judge Joseph Marx: I hear Mr. Sitton loud and clear
Judge Joseph Marx doesn't believe a postponement would change his analysis
Judge Joseph Marx: I don't believe I have any discretion at this point
Patrick Knight, the widower of Lisa Knight said he's in favor of the plea deal. He not only lost his wife, but also their unborn child. He was shot himself, allegedly by Paul Merhige. Still, he said, "I'm very happy to have him locked away..."
Judge Joseph Marx: You cannot let this event define who you are
Judge has accepted plea deal.
Judge Joseph Marx: I hereby accept the plea
Judge Joseph Marx: I sentence him to 7 consecutive life sentences
The hearing has now ended
Jim Sitton was surrounded by his family as he clutched the picture of Makayla.. There was a prayer being said. Merhige's parents thanked the public defender for helping them avoid further trauma.
Outside of the courtroom, Jim and Muriel Sitton are speaking to the media. Jim says he dropped to his knees because, "I thought maybe if I dropped to my knees, they might listen to me." He also said he felt like he failed his daughter again. Muriel Sitton said, "It's just shocking...In the end, he (Merhige) has gotten death."
Daphne Duret and Julius Whigham II, Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
WEST PALM BEACH – A judge has accepted a plea deal and sentenced Paul Michael Merhige to seven consecutive life sentences, sparing him the death penalty for killing four of his relatives in Jupiter during a Thanksgiving Day 2009 shooting spree.
"He will never see the light of day," Circuit Judge Joseph Marx said.
The plea ends the case against Merhige, who was arrested in Jan 2010 after a month-long manhunt that began after he unleashed an attack against his flesh and blood at the end of a holiday get-together.
Merhige shot and killed his 33-year-old twin sisters, Carla Merhige and Lisa Knight, his 76-year-old aunt Raymonde Joseph and 6-year-old Makayla Sitton, his cousin's daughter.
Merhige told the judge he has been on anti psychotic and anti-depressant drugs.
Prosecutors called several witnesses in the hearing, including Merhige's parents Carole and Michael.
Carole Merhige said she'd planned to grow old with her daughters but for the past two years has been struggling to come to grips with the violence that she says has caused her to lose all three of her children.
"Everyone is hurting," Carole said. "And everyone is blinded by their own pain."
Jim Sitton held a lock of his daughter Makayla's hair in his hand as he spoke to the judge, pleading with him to postpone the hearing. The Sittons have said that they wanted prosecutors to take the case to trial and continue seeking the death penalty.
"Makayla didn't have a chance to beg for her life," Jim Sitton said. "Why should he have the chance to beg for his?"
Public defender Carey Haughwout had intended to pursue an insanity defense in the case, but at this afternoon's hearing she announced that she would withdraw the notice as part of the plea agreement.
Merhige has been sitting stoically throughout the hearing, listening as Muriel Sitton announced in court that she is now pregnant again. Aside from losing her daughter, Muriel Sitton said, Merhige also killed Joseph, her mother.
"No sentence on earth can ever make up for what we have lost," Muriel Sitton said. "But we plead with you to let this case go to trial and give us a chance to get the justice the victims deserve."