By POST EDITORIAL BOARD AND THE PALM BEACH POST
Updated: 7:59 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8, 2010
Posted: 7:57 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8, 2010
John Walsh helped to find Paul Michael Merhige, for which the community should be grateful. But Mr. Walsh's contribution to the law-enforcement side of the case should have ended there.
On Tuesday, the host of America's Most Wanted joined Jim Sitton at a news conference. Mr. Sitton is the father of 6-year-old Makayla Sitton. Her mother, Muriel Sitton, is Merhige's cousin. Makayla was one of Merhige's four victims, shot after Thanksgiving dinner. All of the victims were family members.
At the news conference, Mr. Sitton asked Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe to seek the death penalty. "If there's anyone who deserves the death penalty," Mr. Sitton said, "it is someone who would execute my 6-year-old daughter while she is in bed." Mr. Walsh agreed, saying, "I hope (McAuliffe) does the right thing and ends this family's pain."
In fact, the right thing for Mr. Walsh would have been to say nothing. We understand his need to promote the show and the bond that can develop between him and grieving families. We understand how Mr. Walsh has channeled his own anger and grief from the murder of his son, Adam — who also was 6 — 29 years ago into productive work.
But his comment was wrong for two reasons.
First, "the right thing" in the Merhige case depends on your perspective, and the prosecutor's decision depends on many variables. Even when defendants are convicted of capital crimes, juries and judges must weigh 11 exacerbating and seven mitigating factors before a sentence of death is ordered. Second, we wonder whether a decision to seek the death penalty really would ease the Sittons' pain.
On the America's Most Wanted Web site, Mr. Walsh says that the show has caught 1,100 fugitives. He has his job. Prosecutors have theirs.