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California

Jury reaches verdict in McStay family killings, to be read Monday

Joseph and Summer McStay with their children, Joseph Jr.. 3, front, and Gianni, 4.
Joseph and Summer McStay with their children, Joseph Jr.. 3, front, and Gianni, 4. The family disappeared from their Fallbrook home in 2010.
(Family photo)

A jury has reached a verdict in the trial of a Rancho Cucamonga man accused of bludgeoning the McStay family of four and burying their bodies in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert.

Jurors deliberated for about a week before reaching their verdict in the five-month trial of Charles “Chase” Merritt.

The verdict will be read on Monday morning. A spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office did not provide a reason for the delay.

Merritt was charged with four counts of murder in the deaths of Joseph and Summer McStay and their two boys, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3.

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The case puzzled detectives for years after the family vanished from their Fallbrook home in February 2010, leaving no sign of struggle and little clue as to what might have happened to them.

More than three years later, an off-road motorcyclist discovered parts of a skull in the desert off Interstate 15 in Victorville. The remains of Joey McStay, 40, were found buried with Joey Jr. A second grave contained the remains of Summer McStay, 43, and Gianni, along with a sledgehammer.

Prosecutors argued that Merritt, 62, was motivated by greed and self-interest when he attacked the family. He owed Joseph McStay more than $42,000 and forged checks to himself from McStay’s QuickBooks account after the family’s disappearance, prosecutors said.

When speaking with detectives, they said, Merritt referred to Joey McStay in the past tense. And for several days after the family’s disappearance, Merritt’s phone went dark for hours at a time.

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Merritt’s defense team said that he had been wrongfully accused, arguing that prosecutors relied entirely on motive to build their case with no direct evidence.

The mystery-turned-tragedy drew national attention and has been the subject of documentaries and a book. The website Law & Crime streamed the whole trial live.

alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Twitter: @AleneTchek


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