While we’re on a roll about Thanksgiving crimes, I might as well blog about another one (seems to be an ironic time of year for brutal murders). This family had a bizarre member described as an estranged recluse, who attended the meal. Mentally unstable, the family had been aware of his eccentricities for years but certainly hadn’t expected a spree killing in their own home on one of the most family-centered holidays of the year.
35-year-old Paul Merhige was definitely weird. He mostly kept to himself, was a recluse and seemed content to live his life that way. Once a talented athlete and standout prep school student in Miami, had shown no signs of violence or anger at the family gathering that evening, despite his long history of violence and threats to his sisters. One sister had once been granted a restraining order against him years earlier, and he had once shot himself in a suicide attempt. Possibly Merhige suffered from a mental illness.
Merhige hadn’t actually committed to attending the family’s meal. He called his extended family’s house to say he would be attending the meal. Oddly his mother, Carol Merhige, told her pregnant daughter Lisa Knight, “I hope he doesn’t come and kill us all tonight.” Knight’s response was “Mom, it came to my mind. But don’t say that to Dad because Dad would get upset that we had such ideas.”
A relative who survived the attack described seeing an “evil haunting look” on Merhige’s face. “I’ve been waiting 20 years to do this,” Merhige muttered to no one in particular after the meal ended. Then he stood up and methodically began shooting everyone at the table at close range with a gun. First he shot his 33-year-old twin sisters, Carla Merhige, a real estate agent, and Knight. Merhige shot his 76-year-old aunt, Raymonde Joseph. Merhige shot his brother-in-law Patrick Knight who endeded up was in critical but stable condition at a hospital. Another man, Clifford Gebara, 52, was grazed by a bullet. The family didn’t think Merhige planned to kill 6-year-old Makayla, Sitton, Merhige’s first cousin once removed, but he may have become jealous when he saw the family delight in her singing. After shooting the child, Merhige wanted to assure himself that she was dead. He returned to her bedroom and shot the little girl again.
Court records show in the weeks before the meal he had painstaking and discreetly spent $2,000 on at least four guns and ammunition in two Broward County gun shops. He even asked for a scope to be attached to a bolt-action Remington 700 rifle. He said he wanted to use it for hunting. I’m inclined to agree.
Capture and Arrest
After the murders, Merhige went on the lam and was captured by police in a Florida hotel when a tip was called in after an episode of America’s Most Wanted highlighted the murders. After his capture on Jan. 2, Merhige seemed dazed by his own deeds and worried about his future. Records show he rambled on in a police interrogation, implicating himself in the murders without discussing them directly.
“It’s impossible, you know, to reconcile what happened with me,” he said. “It’s just, it’s not even real. I’m not violent. I’ve never been violent. I’m not a criminal or a drug addict. It’s just unbelievable what I’ve done to everybody.” Seemingly unaware of the workings of the court system and scale of the criminal charges that would face him, he asked a police officer if he would be facing “a long process.”
“A year? Two years?” he asked. Months later, sitting in the Palm Beach County Jail, Merhige, 35, seemed shaken by the horrors of his alleged deeds. He called his father collect at his Miami-area home, begging forgiveness.
“I think about them,” he told his father. “I think about heaven, you know? I think about them constantly. I don’t even know what to do….I don’t know how I could have done what I’ve done to everybody, everybody I’ve hurt. Hopefully after the case, hopefully I get sent to a hospital.”
His father, sounding dry and defeated in a static-filled recording of the jail phone call, had by then given Merhige an accounting of the wreckage: “We have nothing,” he told his son. “You have nothing. It’s a total nightmare. Our lives have changed forever.”
If he went before a jury, Merhige could face the death penalty.Instead his lawyer advised him to plead guilty. He was sentenced to seven life sentences without the possibility of parole. Merhige eventually went before a judge to answer to his horrendous crimes. A memorial for Merhige’s victims was attended by hundreds of people.
One Year Later
One year later the Sittons discussed the time they’d lived without little Makayla.”I can see her so vividly still in my mind,” her mother said. Sitton added, “First you could almost fool yourself, pretend she’s just gone for an extended vacation….but it’s almost been a year.” Merhige was a madman with a twisted sense of justice only he could understand. All of Merhige’s life sentences cannot take away the family’s grief over their precious little girl.