Suspected Killer Merhige Nabbed in Keys

Jim Sitton: "I'll be able to sleep."

The man accusing of murdering his twin sisters, one of whom was reportly pregnant, an elderly aunt, and the six-year-old daughter of his cousin in a horrifying crime on Thanksgiving Day in Jupiter was apprehended in the Keys Saturday night after a month-long nationwide manhunt.

Police said they received a tip shortly after the case was featured on the television show "America's Most Wanted" that a person strongly resembling Paul Michael Merhige, 35, had checked into the Edge Water Lodge Motel on Long Key on December 2 under the name "John Baca." The man was operating a blue Toyota, just as Merhige was presumed to be, and had given an address in Homestead, where Merhige had lived with his parents prior to the crime.

U.S. Marshals were able to positively identify Merhige and arrest him without incident -- though not without tasing him -- just before 11 P.M. He was wanted on four counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder, and appeared in

Despite what relatives called "mental instability" and a history of resentment between Merhige and his twin sisters, Police say Merhige spent Thanksgiving day with 17 family and friends at the home of his cousin Muriel Sitton and her husband Jim. He is said to have sat calmly through dinner, after which the Sitton's daughter Makayla recited Psalm 100 and Merhige's sisters, Carla Merhige and Lisa Merhige Knight, sang.

Then, while his family said goodbyes, Merhige went to retreive a gun from his car and opened fire upon returning to the house. He shot Carla and Lisa, both 33; his aunt Raymonde Joseph, 76; and six-year-old Makayla Sitton, who was asleep in her bed when shot.

 "He turned and started to walk away and said, 'I have been waiting 20 years to do this,'" said Jim Sitton.

A bullet also grazed Clifford Gebara, one of Merhige's cousins, and still another struck his brother-in-law, Patrick Knight, who was expecting a child with Lisa Merhige and reportedly remains in critical condition at St. Mary's Hospital in Palm Beach.

"What led to this incident, we're not quite sure," Jupiter Police Sgt. Scott Pascarella said. "It did not appear there was any altercation prior to this shooting."

Paul Merhige disappeared quickly along with $12,000 he had withdrawn before the killings. Police suspected he may have fled to Michigan, but when nothing turned up "America's Most Wanted" aired an episode focused on the case. It is not yet known where Merhige spent the days immediately following the slayings and prior to his December 2 check-in on Long Key .

The motel's co-owner, Melinda Pfaff, said Merhige had paid two weeks' worth of rent in advance, at $69 per night. She grew suspicious, she said, when Merhige rarely left his room, refused all requests to clean his room or change the sheets, and covered his car with a tarp.

The owner's husband was watching football last Sunday when he saw Merhige's photo in a news report. "My husband asked me, 'Isn't the guy staying up in 14?'" Pfaff told the Palm Beach Post. "I looked and said, 'Yes, it is. Let's call America's Most Wanted.'"

Pfaff says she expects to qualify for the $100,000 reward.

Merhige is being held at the Main Detention Center in Palm Beach County this morning. After a brief appearance in court this morning, his next court date was set for February 1.

"I'm elated the monster is in the cage," Sitton told the Palm Beach Post after recieving news of the arrest. "We don't have to worry about him killing my wife or coming back for my father-in-law. It doesn't bring my daughter back but at least this chapter is over."

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