Parents heartbroken after judge accepts plea deal

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - 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.

But death will not be handed down by the legal system. Instead, Merhige was sentenced to seven life sentences after making a guilty plea deal.

It was a loss for the Sitton family and a bitter victory for the Merhige family.

Jim Sitton made his case one final time on behalf of his 6-year-old daughter, Makayla. "Makayla didn't have the chance to plead for her life. Please don't accept this plea," her father, Jim Sitton, asked in court.

Sitton and his wife, Muriel, wanted Paul Merhige to face a murder trial and death sentence for the killing of their child, who was just one of four people who died in the Thanksgiving shooting at the Sitton home in 2009.

The judge said he had no choice but to accept the plea deal between prosecutors and Merhige's lawyer who had once planned an insanity defense.

Sitton, a Fox 29 news photographer, dropped to his knees, begging for the case to go to trial.

The deal spares Merhige the death penalty, but he is now sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences. "Hopefully, you understand where the judge is coming from. With that being said, I accept the plea," Judge Joseph Marx said in court.

Merhige sat nearby. He showed no emotion in a courtroom overflowing with them. "We fought until the bitter end for our daughter, Makayla. I feel like I failed her again. I couldn't save her that night, but at least we know we did the right thing," said Jim Sitton.

Merhige left the Sitton home after eating Thanksgiving dinner that fateful night in 2009 only to return with a gun. He killed his twin sisters, Carla Merhige and Lisa Knight, Muriel Sitton's mother, Raymonde Joseph, and Makayla Sitton who was asleep in her bed.

"This man knew what he was doing; he premeditated this. It doesn't get any better than this," said Muriel Sitton.

But other family members were ready for the plea deal. Merhige's parents broke their public silence for the first time since the murders asking the judge to spare the life of their son. "I have lost three children in one day," said Merhige's mother.

"In the end, he has gotten death in prison, and we know that in the end, he will never come out except in a box, and there is comfort in that," said Muriel Sitton.

After 45 minutes and Judge Marx handed down his decision, he told Merhige that he would never see the light of day.

Paul Merhige will never be up for appeal or parole.

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