McStay Family Murder Suspect May Hire Attorney, Pretrial Delayed

Charles Merritt is accused of killing the McStay family of Fallbrook in February 2010 in a case that stumped investigators for years

Details about the mysterious 2010 murder of a Fallbrook family of four will remain a secret until at least Friday, and quite possibly for months longer.

A preliminary hearing in San Bernardino, Calif., for Charles Merritt, who prosecutors say murdered his former business partnerJoseph McStay, along with Joseph’s wife, Summer McStay, and the couple’s two sons, 4-year-old Gianni McStay and 3-year-old Joseph Mateo McStay was delayed again Tuesday morning.

Merritt has acted as his own attorney in the case, a tactic he previously told Judge Michael Smith will allow him to move the case quickly to trial and prove his innocence.

But at the start of Tueday's preliminary hearing, Merritt confirmed he is in negotiations to hire an attorney.

That development, and the fact that the lead prosecutor in the case was not in court due to illness, prompted Judge Smith to delay the preliminary hearing until Friday.

But if Merritt does formally hire attorney Jimmy Mettias, it is very possible that the hearing will be delayed again, this time for months, while Mettias studies thousands of pages of evidence in the case.
Mettias confirmed that scenario to reporters after Tuesday’s very brief hearing.

He also said he and Merritt are still working out the details of an agreement in which he will represent Merritt in this possible death penalty case.

As of today, Mettias said he currently "represents [Merritt's] interests" but is not officially his attorney.

Today's much-anticipated preliminary hearing would have revealed the first details of the case against Merritt, including expected testimony from detectives and other witnesses about the evidence against Merritt.

Family members of both Merritt and his alleged victims attended the hearing but declined to talk with reporters about these latest developments.

The mysterious case of McStay family’s murders has been filled with twists, turns and delays in legal proceedings.

In early April, Merritt’s pretrial hearing was also postponed because, at that time, he was still representing himself and a judge ruled he was not ready to act as his own attorney in the courtroom in the case that could result in the death penalty.

Merritt is accused of murdering his former business partner, Joseph McStay, along with Joseph’s wife, Summer McStay, and the couple’s two sons, 4-year-old Gianni McStay and 3-year-old Joseph Mateo McStay in 2010.

The Fallbrook family was reported missing on Feb. 4, 2010.

The case of their disappearance stumped the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department: a family of four vanished from their California home, leaving eggs to rot in the kitchen, their dogs without food and freshly-made popcorn on the counter.

In November 2013, the skeletal remains of the family were uncovered in shallow graves in a very remote desert location in Victorville, Calif.

One year later, in November 2014, Merritt was arrested in connection with the mysterious murders.
He had originally chosen to serve as his own attorney because he only has six to eight months to live due to congestive heart failure and could not afford his own attorney. A judge offered a court-appointed attorney at no cost, but Merritt initially declined.

In February 2015, Merritt complained to a judge that he wasn’t receiving the documents needed for his defense. He asked for prosecution discovery documents and files on a computer that was seized by investigators, according to U-T San Diego reporter Teri Figueroa.

After Merritt’s preliminary trial, a judge will decide if there’s enough evidence to send Merritt to trial.

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