Man convicted of killing family found in desert

Man convicted of killing family found in desert

Man convicted of killing family found in desert

Although a small amount of his DNA was found on the steering wheel of McStay's Isuzu Trooper, which was found at the worldwide border Feb 8, 2010 - four days after the family vanished and 60 miles from their home - no evidence places Merritt at the border that day.

Now, a jury has reached a verdict in the murder case against 62-year-old Charles "Chase" Merritt, who authorities said killed the family with a sledgehammer after his business associate Joseph McStay tried to cut him out of a business making and selling custom water fountains.

Kyla Cummins, 2, daughter of a family friend, plays with a stuff toy left at the memorial for murdered McStay family.

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. At one point, investigators said they believed the family had gone to Mexico voluntarily, though they couldn't say why. Merritt was arrested a year later.

The remains of the family were located in the shallow desert in San Bernardino County rougly 100 miles from Victorville three years later.

Prosecutors argued Merritt's motive was greed and that he owed McStay money.

After the McStays disappeared from their home in San Diego County, investigators couldn't immediately determine what had happened.

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With the jury's guilty verdict in, Merritt could face the death penalty.

The prosecutor also pointed to statements Merritt made to detectives in the early days of the investigation, when he referred to the then-missing Joseph McStay in the past tense, and to internet searches on Merritt's cellphone regarding how to change identity - a query made shortly after the bodies were discovered. Instead, they said, authorities zeroed in on an innocent man, but the evidence doesn't add up, noting there were no signs of an attack inside the family's home.

Deputy District Attorney Britt Imes highlighted evidence he said pointed to Merritt: cellphone data, questionable activity in McStay's business account, gaps when Merritt was "off the grid" for hours on key dates, his DNA on McStay's steering wheel. "They tried his character and not the facts of this case", defense attorney James McGee told jurors.

Many questions still remain about the family's disappearance. Prosecutors acknowledge details of the killings are not entirely clear but say the evidence from the family's auto, mobile phone towers and financial accounts link Merritt to the killings.

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.

Phone records show Mr McStay called Merritt seven times after the February 4 meeting, with defence lawyers arguing that Mr McStay would not have been likely do that if he had just fired Merritt.

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