Jury urges death for killer of family of 4 found in desert

5d11d58e79f12 rawImage
5d11d58e79f12 rawImage

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) – A jury on Monday recommended the death penalty for a Southern California man convicted of killing a family of four with a sledgehammer and burying their bodies in shallow desert graves. Jurors in San Bernardino made the recommendation for Charles “Chase” Merritt, 62, in a case that puzzled investigators for years after a couple and their two young sons vanished from their home in 2010. Their bodies were found three years later. Merritt supported his head on his fists and closed his eyes as the verdicts were read. He also spoke briefly to his attorney. He was convicted this month of the murders of his former business associate Joseph McStay, McStay’s wife Summer, and their 4- and 3-year-old sons, Gianni and Joseph Jr. Merritt had pleaded not guilty and his lawyers didn’t offer witnesses during the penalty phase of his trial, insisting he is innocent. San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith set a Sept. 27 hearing to formally sentence Merritt. He thanked the jurors after the verdicts were read, saying he knew the decision was “extremely difficult.” Authorities said they believed Merritt killed the family as McStay was cutting him out of his business making and selling custom water fountains. When the family disappeared, there were no signs of forced entry at their San Diego County home and their car was found parked at a strip mall near the Mexico border. For years, no one could figure out what happened to them. In 2013, their bodies were found in shallow graves in the desert after an off-road motorcyclist discovered skeletal remains in the area. Authorities also unearthed a rusty sledgehammer that they said was used to kill the family. Merritt was arrested the following year. Authorities said they traced his cellphone…

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