Trial of Charles Merritt: a Californian convicted of murdering a family of four found in desert graves



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Southern California man convicted Monday of kill a family of four and bury their bodies in the desert in a case that baffled investigators for years after their family's sudden disappearance in 2010. After a trial that lasted for more than four months and relied heavily on circumstantial evidence, the jurors of San Bernardino found Charles "Chase" Merritt, 62, guilty of murdering his partner, Joseph McStay, his wife, Summer, and the couple's 3 and 4-year-old sons.

Merritt closed his eyes and looked down when the clerk pronounced the word "guilty" the first of four times for first degree murder. The sobs came from the crowded audience hall. Someone shouted: "Yes!"

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Charles "Chase" Merritt, second from left, is in a courtroom in San Bernardino after a jury found him guilty of four counts of first degree murder in the 2013 murders of the McStay family.

AP


Prosecutors claim that Merritt killed the family with a blacksmith 's hammer at a time when he owed money to McStay and was excluded from the victim' s job of making and selling custom fountains.

The jury also found special circumstances of multiple murders, which means that Merritt is eligible for the death penalty. Prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty if Merritt was convicted, and the trial phase of the trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Prosecutors refused to comment after the verdict and families from both sides left without talking to reporters.

After the disappearance of the McStay family, the authorities found bowls of uneaten popcorn in their home in San Diego County, which showed no sign of forced entry. Their car was later found parked in a shopping center near the Mexican border.

For years, officials have not been able to determine what happened to the McStays. At one point, the investigators said they believed that the family had gone to Mexico of their own free will, without being able to say why.

In 2013, their bodies were found in shallow graves in the desert after an off-road motorcyclist had discovered skeletal remains in the area. The authorities also discovered a rusty mass that would have been used to kill the family.

"It was shot after the fact, shot after blow on a child's skull," said Attorney Britt Imes during a pleading.

Merritt, who was working with McStay in his water treatment business, was arrested in 2014. Merritt was working on a book on the murder of the McStay family when he was arrested , reported CBS News at the time.

In the book entitled "Fear of Light," Merrick claimed that Joseph McStay feared that his wife had poisoned him. He was looking to publish it later this year. Patrick McStay, father of Joseph McStay, told CBS News in 2014 that Merritt had told him about the book during a telephone conversation.

"He wanted me to read what he wrote, he started to read it to me, he said," Why do not we collaborate to write a book? "Patrick McStay told CBS News.

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Family photo


Patrick McStay stated that this made him immediately suspicious of Merritt, but he "played the game" in the hope of finding out what happened to his son, daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law. his two grandchildren.

Authorities said they had found Merritt's mobile phone in the Desert Tombs area a few days after the family's disappearance and a call to shut down McStay's online accounting account.

Merritt spoke of McStay in the past in an interview with investigators after the family's disappearance. And while the evidence linking him to the murders is largely circumstantial, it is "extremely compelling," Imes said.

Merritt's lawyers said the two men were best friends and the investigators had neglected another possible suspect in the killings. Instead, they said, the authorities focused on an innocent man, but the evidence does not agree, noting that there was no sign of an attack at the police station. inside the family home.

"They put his personality to the test and not the facts of this case," said defense lawyer James McGee to the jury.

There are still many questions about the disappearance of the family. Prosecutors acknowledged that the details are not perfectly clear, but claim that evidence from the family car, mobile towers and financial accounts links Merritt to the murders.

The authorities said McStay was excluding Merritt from the company in early February and that the two men met on February 4 in Rancho Cucamonga, where Merritt was living at the time.

Prosecutors say the financial records show that Merritt tried to loot business bank accounts just before and after the family's disappearance and backdated checks until February 4, knowing that it was the last day where anyone had contact with McStay.

The phone records show that McStay called Merritt seven times after the Feb. 4 meeting, with defense lawyers saying that McStay would probably not do it if he had just sent Merritt away.

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