McStay Family Killings: Jury Deliberations Begin in San Bernardino County Trial

Charles Merritt appears in court in San Bernardino in an undated image. (Credit: Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Charles Merritt appears in court in San Bernardino in an undated image. (Credit: Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A jury on Thursday began deliberations in the trial of a Southern California man charged with killing a family of four and burying their bodies in the desert.

Jurors are weighing the case brought by San Bernardino County prosecutors against 62-year-old Charles “Chase” Merritt for the alleged murders of his business associate Joseph McStay, McStay’s wife Summer and the couple’s 3- and 4-year-old sons.

The family vanished from their San Diego County home in 2010 in a case that puzzled investigators. Three years later, their bodies were found in shallow graves in a remote desert location more than 100 miles away. Authorities also unearthed a rusty sledgehammer that they said was used to carry out the killings.

Merritt, who worked with McStay in his water features business, was arrested in 2014. Prosecutors argued that Merritt killed McStay out of greed at a time when he owed McStay money and was being cut out of the business.

Authorities said they traced Merritt’s cellphone to the area of the desert graves in the days after the family disappeared and to a call seeking to close McStay’s online bookkeeping account.

Merritt’s attorneys said there was no sign of an attack at the McStay family’s home and the two men were close friends.

The trial spanned more than four months. If Merritt is convicted of the killings, prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty.

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