Charles "Chase" Merritt killed business partner Joseph McStay, 40, McStay's wife, Summer, 43, and their two children, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3

By Christine Pelisek
January 22, 2020 12:19 PM
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McStay Family
Credit: McStay Family/ZUMA

A California businessman has been sentenced to death for brutally murdering a family of four and then dumping their bodies in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert.

Charles “Chase” Merritt, 62, was convicted in June of killing his former business associate Joseph McStay, 40, McStay’s wife, Summer, 43, and their two children, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3.

The former welder was sentenced to death for the murders of Summer, Gianni and Joseph Jr. and life without parole for the murder of Joseph.

“How could you beat two precious little babies?,” Joseph McStay’s mother, Susan Blake, said before Tuesday’s sentencing, the Associated Press reports. “How scared were they, Chase? Crying for Mommy and Daddy? Chase, you are a low-life baby killer.”

“The world was robbed of four beautiful souls,” Joseph’s brother, Mike McStay said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The family went missing in 2010, four months after they moved into a new house in the San Diego suburb of Fallbrook, California.

The family’s two beloved dogs, Bear and Digger, were left behind in the backyard, and nearly $100,000 remained untouched in bank accounts belonging to Joseph, who ran a successful decorative-fountain business.

The family’s car was discovered at a strip mall near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Charles "Chase" Merritt
Charles Merritt
| Credit: Watchara Phomicinda/Digital First Media/The Press-Enterprise via Getty

At one point, investigators wondered if the family had decided to start a new life in Mexico.

However, three years later, in November 2013, the remains of the McStay family were discovered in two shallow graves in the Mojave Desert, near Victorville.

According to detectives, Joseph’s body was found with a white extension cord wrapped around his neck. Summer’s skull was fractured and one of their sons’ heads was bludgeoned seven times, according to court testimony.

A sledgehammer was also found buried at the site.

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The following year, authorities filed murder charges against Merritt, Joseph’s onetime business partner.

According to investigators, DNA allegedly matching Merritt’s was found on the steering wheel of the McStays’ white Isuzu Trooper, which was abandoned near the Mexico border following the family’s disappearance.

Merritt’s cellphone was also traced to the burial site area in the days following the McStays’ disappearance.

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.

Before he was sentenced, Merritt tearfully proclaimed his innocence.

“I loved Joseph,” he said. “He was a big part of my life and my family’s life. I would never have hurt him in any way. I would have never raised my hand for a woman or child. I did not do this thing.”