- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 3, 2010

UPDATED:

WESTON, Fla. — A weekslong manhunt ended with the arrest of a Florida man accused of the carefully planned slayings of four relatives at a Thanksgiving dinner.

Paul Merhige, 35, was arrested without a struggle Saturday night at a motel in the Florida Keys, Jupiter Police Sgt. Scott Pascarella said. Sgt. Pascarella credited the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” for the tip that led to Mr. Merhige’s capture on Long Key.

Mr. Merhige was booked early Sunday at the Palm Beach County jail and was ordered held without bond on four charges of murder.

The Palm Beach Post reported that Mr. Merhige was silent at his first court appearance. He was appointed a public defender, and an arraignment is set for Feb. 1.

“I’m elated that the monster is in the cage. 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,” Jim Sitton, the father of 6-year-old victim Makayla Sitton, told the Palm Beach Post on Saturday night.

Mr. Merhige was the subject of a massive manhunt that included billboards and fliers with his image and a $100,000 reward for information leading to his capture. He is accused of gunning down his twin sisters, a 79-year-old aunt and 6-year-old cousin on Thanksgiving Day at a family gathering in Jupiter.

Authorities said Mr. Merhige checked into the motel Dec. 2, using the name “John Baca” and a false Homestead address. He had the same blue 2007 Toyota Camry that had been a key part of the manhunt, but police said it was hidden with a covering at the motel.

U.S. marshals said Mr. Merhige, who had withdrawn $12,000 from bank accounts before the killings, paid for his room in advance in cash. It turned out that the license tag on his car had been registered to a Lexus he owned in 2006. Mr. Merhige was on his computer when U.S. marshals and local deputies entered his motel room, according to a marshals statement.

Mr. Merhige’s cover was blown when motel owner Paul Pfaff recognized him in a preview for the television show “America’s Most Wanted” on Saturday night.

Melinda Pfaff said Sunday that she and her husband rarely saw Mr. Merhige during his stay at their Edgewater Lodge on Long Key. She said Mr. Merhige wanted his privacy and insisted on cleaning his own room.

The Pfaffs said Mr. Merhige had stockpiled canned food during the monthlong stay.

Police said Mr. Merhige opened fire at a home where 16 relatives had gathered for the holiday in Jupiter, an affluent community about 90 miles north of Miami. He faces four counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder in the shootings, which also injured two other people.

Police said Mr. Merhige shot and killed his 33-year-old twin sisters, Carla Merhige and Lisa Knight, both of Miami, along with his aunt Raymonde Joseph, 76, and his young cousin. Police said Ms. Knight was pregnant.

Authorities have said Mr. Merhige carefully planned the killings. Mr. Sitton has said Mr. Merhige was heard saying after the shootings that he had waited 20 years to kill the relatives.

Mr. Merhige sat through three hours of dinner and sing-alongs around the piano before the shootings, Mr. Sitton has said. There were no arguments, warnings or red flags before the rampage, he said.

Police said Mr. Merhige was taking numerous medications, including Ativan, which is used to treat anxiety disorders.

Associated Press writer Jennifer Kay contributed to this report from Miami.

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