The Paul Merhige case is over, but the scars for those who lost loved ones that fateful Thanksgiving day are far from healed. For nearly two years, Jim and Muriel Sitton have fought tooth and nail to make sure their daughter's murderer faced the death penalty.More >>
During the hearing Thursday, Paul Michael Merhige withdrew his previous plea of 'not guilty'. He also waived his insanity defense. Circuit Judge Joseph Marx then sentenced him to seven consecutive life terms.More >>
A major development emerged involving accused killer Paul Merhige. The judge involved in the case has ruled that the public should have access to a large portion of evidence in the case before it goes to trial.More >>
WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - It was a high-profile takedown with cameras rolling. A man, accused of killing four family members in Jupiter on Thanksgiving, arrested at a motel in the Florida Keys.
Now, the man's lawyers point to the intense media coverage as they ask a judge to seal evidence in the case.
Paul Michael Merhige is charged with killing his two sisters, an aunt and his cousin's 6-year-old daughter, Makayla Sitton, as she slept in her bed.
In Florida, lawyers are required to share evidence with the other side, and once they do, the records become public; therfore, making them available to the media and you.
Merhige's lawyer, Palm Beach County Public Defender Carey Haughwout, is asking a judge to seal those records. She says in court filings, she wants to make sure her client gets a fair trial.
"The media attention to the case," writes Haughwout, "has been almost unprecedented." She points to Merhige's arrest, recorded by TV cameras, apparently, tipped off in advance.
Merhige's motel room was also recorded even before evidence was collected. Haughwout cites the news conferences after the arrest, where people call for the death penalty, and call Merhige a "monster". And her client's medical information has already made it into the media, she says.
While sealing confidential medical records in court is done all the time, local lawyers tell us they can't remember a case where all records were sealed. They say there's a high legal standard for doing that.
And a former prosecutor says even in high profile cases, he's found it's not that difficult to find an impartial jury. "Everybody has that concern up front," said attorney Craig Williams, who's now in private practice. "But experience shows, it never ends up being an issue," he said.
"You'd be surprised, most of the jurors have never heard of the case, or they know such little information," said Williams.
Haughwout is also asking that lawyers, law enforcement and witnesses be prohibited from talking about the Merhige case.
The judge has set a hearing on the matter for the end of next week.