Merhige sentenced without going to trial - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Merhige sentenced without going to trial

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - Before Circuit Judge Joseph Marx made his decision to accept a plea deal sparing Paul Michael Merhige the death penalty, he was begged to do the opposite.

"Please don't accept this plea," said Jim Sitton, father of Makayla Sitton, one of Merhige's victims. "Don't snatch what little we have left in our live,s and that is justice for our little girl."

But the judge said he didn't think he had any discretion in the plea hearing.

After listening to another witness, he sentenced Merhige to seven consecutive life terms. "He will never see the light of day," Judge Marx said.

The plea deal ends a long chapter in the case against Merhige, who was arrested in January of 2010 after killing four of his own family members two months earlier.

On Thanksgiving night in 2009, Merhige shot and killed his 33-year-old twin sisters, Carla Merhige and Lisa Knight, his 76-year-old aunt Raymonde Joseph [Muriel Sitton's mother] and 6-year-old Makayla, his cousin's daughter.

The judge told Jim Sitton and his wife, Muriel, not to let the events of that Thanksgiving night define who they are.

During the hearing, Merhige withdrew his previous plea of 'not guilty'. He also waived his insanity defense.

Sitton, who is a photojournalist for WFLX, said he and his wife, Muriel, wanted prosecutors to take the case to trial, so Merhige could face the death penalty for murdering their daughter and Muriel's mother; something they believe would bring them much-needed justice.

To Sitton, this deal was "cheap" and didn't make sense. "My daughter was innocently tucked into her bed [on the night of the murder]. She didn't have a chance to plead for her life," Sitton said. "Why should [Merhige] have the chance to beg for his?"

Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe said in a written release that he determined that Merhige'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.

"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," McAuliffe said.

Sitton said the second he heard Judge Marx was going to accept the plea, "tears started to flow". "The one thing that really upsets me in this case is we have a good case," Sitton said. "We just don't have a good state attorney."

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