This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.Greed, debt and a gambling problem drove a Southern California man to kill his business partner’s family with a sledgehammer and bury their bodies in the desert, prosecutors said Monday. But the defense said authorities are charging the wrong man and the real culprit is another business partner. Opening arguments were held in the trial of Charles “Chase” Merritt. Merritt, 61, has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. Sean Daugherty, supervising deputy district attorney for San Bernardino County, told jurors that Merritt wrote checks for more than $21,000 on his partner’s online bookkeeping account after the family was last seen alive in February 2010, the Sun newspaper of San Bernardino reported. “Greed, and greed’s child, fraud” were the motive, Daugherty argued. Merritt is charged with killing Joseph McStay; McStay’s wife, Summer; and their 3- and 4-year-old sons. The family’s disappearance perplexed investigators for years, with no signs of forced entry at their San Diego County home. Three years later, their bodies were found more than 100 miles away in a remote area of San Bernardino County, along with a 3-pound sledgehammer and a child’s pants and diaper. Merritt made custom fountains for McStay’s online water feature business and prosecutors and sheriff’s investigators have said he was in debt and had a gambling problem, the Sun reported. Merritt “desperately tried to cover his tracks after the murders . misled investigators, talked in circles, and played the victim,” Daugherty said.
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