Business associate Charles Merritt is eligible for death penalty
Credit: San Bernardino County Sheriff s Department

Charles “Chase” Merritt, 57, pleaded not guilty Wednesday when he was arraigned and charged with four counts of murder.

He was arrested last week for the deaths of the Joseph McStay, 40, his wife Summer, 43, and their two sons Gianni, 5, and Joseph Jr., 3. After they went missing in 2010, their bodies were found in shallow graves in the California desert last year.

“This case arose from tragedy and it’s a good time for me to express sincere sympathy and condolences [to the McStay family] on their losses,” Merritt’s attorney Robert Ponce told reporters outside the Victorville, California, courthouse.

Ponce says he is trying to catch up on the details of the case, and may need more time to review more than 900 pages of evidence, which could possibly delay a hearing scheduled for Nov. 25.

“I will do everything I can for Mr. Merritt,” he told reporters. “Everything in my power.”

Merritt is eligible for the death penalty. He is currently being held in jail without bond.

For more information about the McStay family murders, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday

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