by Jon Pine
Inevitably, after a horrific crime, a perfectly coiffed TV journalist will shove a microphone in the faces of the neighbors of the accused, and ask for their impressions. “He was a quiet man; he kept to himself,” is a common reply. “We never expected him to do anything like that!”
But then, in the ensuing days and weeks, the story unfolds to reveal that yes, there were signs. Lots of signs. Big, blatant billboard-size signs in bright, bold letters. Perhaps we should have expected him to do something like that.
In 1994 and ’95, early in his rabble-rousing career, Michael Moore had a TV show on NBC called “TV Nation.” In one episode he takes this notion to an extreme, as a sort of experiment to see just how bizarre you’d have to behave before your neighbors did anything about it:
It would be funnier if it wasn’t so frightening, especially in light of recent events. I’m not saying we should all be nosey buttinskis like Gladys Kravits, but for the love of mike! Wake up and smell the mass murderer next door, will ya?!
Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, two horrific multiple murders occurred. The first was not far from here, in Jupiter, Florida, on Thanksgiving Day. Shortly after dinner, Paul Merhige, 35, allegedly left the house for a short while and returned with a gun. He reportedly shot and killed his sisters – twins Lisa and Carla – and his aunt Raymonde. Lisa was pregnant. Then he went into a bedroom and shot his cousin, six-year-old Makayla.
“He wasn’t moody, it was just completely out of the blue,” said Jim Sitton, Makayla’s father. “I saw no red flags” that would indicate the carnage to come.
And on Sunday near Tacoma, WA, Maurice Clemmons, 37, allegedly walked into a coffee shop and shot four police officers – ages 39-42 and all with young families – to death.
As of this writing, Clemmons has been found and killed by police; Merhige is still at large.
Now we are told that Merhige had a history of mental problems and held “an ongoing resentment” toward his family. Hmm. Sounds like a sign to me. In 1998 and 2006, Carla filed criminal complaints against him alleging domestic violence. (The charges were later dropped.) Two more signs. Unnamed sources also say that Merhige’s past mental problems include a “severe messiah complex” in which he believes, at times, he is Jesus Christ. Okay, big sign there.
Maurice Clemmons had a Jesus complex, too. Pending charges in Washington State accuse him of gathering his wife and young relatives together in the middle of the night and forcing them to undress, claiming to be Jesus and saying, according to police, “Trust me. God wants us to be like this together. The world is going to end soon.”
Believe it or not, that was probably the smallest sign that Clemmons might snap one day. He had an extensive history of violent criminal activity in Arkansas, culminating in a combined 108-year sentence for a variety of crimes including aggravated robbery, possessing a gun on school property, and five other felonies. His first opportunity for parole would have been in 2021.
But in 2000, then-Governor Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, after hearing that Clemmons got “saved” during his incarceration, commuted his sentence. He was paroled after serving only 9 years. Instead of sitting in jail, Clemmons moved to Washington State, where he continued a crime spree that included assaulting a police officer, and second-degree rape of a child, along with the bizarre naked family incident. He was released on $150,000 bond just a few days before Sunday’s killings.
“This is the day I’ve been dreading for a long time,” said Larry Jegley, an Arkansas prosecutor who opposed Huckabee’s clemency ruling.
Plenty of signs, folks. You’d have to be blind or stupid not to see ’em.
Or maybe just a neighbor.
© 2009 Jon Pine