The man accused of killing a Fallbrook family of four has hired a legal team to represent him, his new attorneys confirmed Wednesday.
Charles Merritt decided to retain the services of the Mettias Law firm the same week his preliminary hearing was supposed to move forward. Merritt is accused of murder in the deaths of his former business partner Joseph McStay, Joseph’s wife Summer and their two sons, 4-year-old Gianni McStay and 3-year-old Joseph Mateo McStay.
Until now, 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 Tuesday's preliminary hearing, Merritt confirmed he is in negotiations to hire an attorney. Because of the development, the judge postponed the hearing until Friday.
Jimmy Mettias, Merritt’s lead attorney, said it is very possible the hearing will be delayed again – for months this time – so Mettias can study thousands of pages of evidence in the case.
“It is clear Mr. Merritt desires this matter to move forward quickly and without any further delay,” Mettias said in a release Wednesday. “As such our team has committed to moving this case along quickly. Nevertheless, while moving the case along quickly is important it is even more important to ensure that all the alleged evidence and lack thereof is examined closely and analyzed carefully.”
“Even a cursory review of the various documents and discovery confirm our position and belief that Mr. Merritt is innocent,” he added.
Tuesday’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.