A California man was convicted Monday for the brutal slaying of a family of four and burying their bodies in the Mojave Desert. The case made headlines after they inexplicably disappeared in 2010.
Charles “Chase” Merritt, 62, is eligible for the death penalty, AP reports, following his conviction of four counts of first-degree murder for fatally bludgeoning his business associate 40-year-old Joseph McStay; McStay’s 43-year-old wife Summer, and the couple’s toddler sons Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3. The trial’s penalty phase was scheduled to start Tuesday.
The McStays were last seen at their California home before disappearing in February 2010. Uneaten popcorn was found at the home and their car was discovered near the Mexico border. The family’s bodies were found in November 2013, buried in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert.
McStay successfully dealt in custom water fountains and was severing business ties with Merritt, who owed him money, when the latter used a sledgehammer as his weapon of choice, according to prosecutors.
“It was blow, after blow, after blow to a child’s skull,” prosecutor Britt Imes said.
Merritt was arrested in 2014 after authorities traced his cell phone to the gravesite area and he aroused their suspicions referring to McStay in the past tense. He also attempted to loot the business bank accounts shortly before and after the McStays vanished, according to prosecutors.
Defense attorney James McGee believes, “They tried [Merrit’s] character and not the facts of the case.”
Prosecutors are still putting together the facts of the disappearance, though Imes believes the evidence against Merritt is “overwhelmingly convincing.”