California man guilty of killing family of 4 found in desert

A Southern California man was convicted today of killing a family of four and burying their bodies in the desert, a case that puzzled investigators for years after the family suddenly vanished from their home in 2010.

After a trial that spanned more than four months and depended largely on circumstantial evidence, jurors in San Bernardino found 62-year-old Charles "Chase" Merritt guilty in the bludgeoning deaths of his business associate Joseph McStay, McStay's wife, Summer, and the couple's 3- and 4-year-old sons.

Merritt closed his eyes and looked down when the court clerk said the word "guilty" the first of four times to first-degree murder. Sobs came from the packed courtroom. Someone called out, "Yes!"

Prosecutors say Merritt killed the family with a sledgehammer at a time when he owed McStay money and was being cut out of the victim's business making and selling custom water fountains.

The jury also found the special circumstance of multiple murders. Prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty if Merritt was convicted, and the penalty phase of the trial was scheduled to begin tomorrow.

 

Dawn Kamber