A California businessman has been found guilty of brutally killing a family of four and dumping their bodies in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert.
The verdict in the murder case against Charles “Chase” Merritt was read in a San Bernardino courtroom today.
Merritt, 62, was convicted of killing his former business associate Joseph McStay, 40; Stay’s wife, Summer, 43; and their two children: Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3. He could face the death penalty when he is sentenced.
The family went missing in 2010, four months after they moved into a new house in the San Diego suburb of Fallbrook, California.
The family’s two beloved dogs, Bear and Digger, were left behind in the backyard, and nearly $100,000 remained untouched in Joseph’s bank accounts (he ran a successful decorative-fountain business).
The family’s car was discovered at a strip mall near the Mexican border.
At one point, investigators wondered if the family had decided to start a new life in Mexico.
However, three years later, in November 2013, the remains of the McStay family were discovered in two shallow graves in the Mojave Desert, near Victorville.
According to detectives, Joseph’s body was found with a white extension cord wrapped around his neck. Summer’s skull was fractured and one of their sons’ heads was bludgeoned seven times, according to court testimony.
A sledgehammer was also found buried at the site.
The following year, authorities filed murder charges against Charles “Chase” Merritt, Joseph’s onetime business partner.
According to investigators, DNA allegedly matching Merritt’s was found on the steering wheel of the McStays’ white Isuzu Trooper, which was abandoned near the Mexico border following the family’s disappearance.
Merritt’s cellphone was also traced to the burial site area in the days following the McStays’ disappearance.
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According to the San Bernardino Sun, prosecutors alleged Merritt was a gambling addict who committed the crime for financial gain and wrote thousands of dollars in checks on Josephs’ business account for days after he disappeared.
Merritt pleaded not guilty to the four counts of murder he faced.
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