After six hours of testimony during a preliminary hearing on Monday, a San Bernardino judge ordered Charles “Chase” Merritt to stand trial for allegedly beating to death a San Diego County family that was missing for more than three years before being found buried in the Mojave Desert.
The McStay family – Joseph, 40, his wife Summer, 43, and their sons Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3 – were last seen alive on Feb. 4, 2010, before vanishing without a trace from their home. Friends and family were left with countless unanswered questions.
Now, as prosecutors presented evidence to the judge, some of those questions are finally getting answered.
At the gravesite where a passing motorcycle rider discovered a human skull in November 2013, detectives testified that McStay’s body was found with a white extension cord wrapped around his neck. Summer’s skull was fractured and a child’s head was bludgeoned seven times, according to testimony. A sledgehammer was also found buried at the site.
Additionally, detectives testified that DNA matching Merritt was found on the steering wheel of the McStay’s white Isuzu Trooper, which was found abandoned near the Mexico border days following their disappearance.
Merritt pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder. His lawyer told reporters that there is not evidence linking Merritt to the murders. Merritt’s family released a statement showing their support.
“On behalf of the Merritt family, I would like to say that Charles ‘Chase’ Merritt is innocent of the charges against him in the McStay case,” reads the statement. “We are wholeheartedly supporting Chase, and we know that with the hard work and determination put forth by his defense team, he will be back in the arms of his loving family.”
Meanwhile, Jospeh’s mother Susan Blake, who attended the hearing, continues to grieve.
“It’s been a really hard time for me,” she told a reporter.
Merritt will return to the courthouse and be arraigned on June 24 when prosecutors may announce if they plan to seek the death penalty.
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