McStay murder trial: Charles Merritt sentenced to death for murder of family of four

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (KABC) -- Charles "Chase" Merritt was sentenced to death Tuesday for killing a family of four who disappeared in 2010 and were discovered three years later in the Mojave Desert.

Sentencing was delayed Friday after Merritt tried to fire his lawyer, but the judge denied the request. His lawyer had filed a motion for a new trial, arguing misconduct on the part of the prosecution.

After a trial that spanned more than four months, Merritt was found guilty back in June in the killing of the McStay family. The 62-year-old Merritt had pleaded not guilty to charges he murdered his business partner, Joseph McStay, his wife Summer, and the couple's 4 and 3-year-old sons.

Merritt was found guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. The jury also found the special circumstance of multiple murders. Prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty if Merritt was convicted. The penalty phase of the trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday.

The family vanished from their home in 2010.

The remains of the family were discovered in two shallow graves in 2013 near Victorville. Merritt was arrested a year later.

The prosecution believes Merritt murdered the family because he was being cut out of McStay's water-feature business and that he was also stealing money from the business - which McStay discovered.

A verdict was reached Friday by jurors, but it was not announced publicly until Monday.

Both McStay and Merritt families declined to comment, while Merritt's defense attorneys expressed their disappointment with the verdict.

"I can tell you right now our client is innocent, and we will fight and continue to fight as long as we have to," said attorney Raj Maline.

The Riverside County Sheriff's Department, which investigated the case, released a statement saying, "This verdict is a step toward justice to the McStays whose lives were cut far too short. This young family deserved better, and my hope is this will provide some element of closure for their families as they begin to heal from this senseless act."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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