Jury to Deliberate Fate of Man Charged in McStay Family's Killing

Attorneys representing Charles "Chase" Merritt told jurors there is no evidence connecting their client to four brutal killings of the McStay family.

What to Know

  • The McStay family of Fallbrook was last heard from or seen on Feb. 4, 2010.
  • On Feb. 15, the family was reported missing to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
  • Homicide investigators search the family's home on Avocado Vista Lane and found no sign of a struggle.

Update on 5/30: After five months of testimony, the defense and prosecution have concluded their closing arguments in the McStay family murder trial. The jury will deliberate the fate of Charles Merritt, charged with killing Joseph and Summer McStay along with their 3- and 4-year-old sons, starting Monday, not Thursday as previously reported. Today, a juror who had a work conflict was replaced by an alternate. 

A kidnapping theory was suggested Wednesday in the 2010 disappearance of a Southern California family that stumped investigators and riveted San Diegans for years until their bodies were discovered in desert graves.

Attorneys representing Charles "Chase" Merritt, 62, told jurors there is no evidence connecting their client to four brutal killings.

He's accused of killing his former business partner Joseph McStay first. Then, Merritt is accused of using a sledgehammer to kill Joseph's wife, Summer, and their 3- and 4-year old sons.

However, in the defense team's closing arguments Wednesday, Merritt's attorney reminded the jury there was no blood evidence at the scene or on his client. 

"He'd be covered in blood. Impact causes blood spatter, covered in blood. Nobody says anything about him being covered in blood," attorney James McGee said.

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The McStay family killings have captivated the public since the family was first reported missing nine years ago.

Merritt, a former business partner of Joseph McStay, was arrested one year after the family was found buried in shallow graves in the desert near Victorville.

Prosecutors told jurors greed motivated the brutal killings and the coverup.

Three days before the family vanished, Merritt received an email from Joseph McStay saying Merritt owed thousands of dollars in overpayments.

Closing arguments resumed in the McStay family murder trial. NBC 7's Marianne Kushi has more.

After that, as of Feb. 4, 2010, there was no phone activity, internet, email, bank, credit card activity from the family.

Family members reported the McStays missing on Feb. 15, 2010 and an investigation was launched. 

McGee said investigators manipulated evidence and even accusing the prosecutor of lying.

The defense attorney told jurors there were two sets of tire tracks at the gravesite and for the first time, we heard a new theory from the defense.

Merritt's lawyer claimed - without evidence - the family was kidnapped at their home, by multiple people.

 San Bernardino Deputy District Attorney Britt Imes plays recordings of a police interview with defendant Charles “Chase” Merritt who is accused of killing the McStay family of Fallbrook, California. In the interview, Merritt uses the past tense when talking about Joseph McStay, Summer McStay, Joe McStay Jr., and Gianni McStay.

The family's disappearance in 2010 perplexed investigators for years with false leads and national television programs recapping the weeks leading up to their disappearance.

It wasn't until November 2013 that the family was found dead, buried more than 100 miles away in a remote area of San Bernardino County, along with a 3-pound sledgehammer, child's pants and a diaper.

Summer McStay was found with a broken jaw. Joseph and his sons were found with fractured skulls.

Prosecutors told jurors there can be a murder case without answering where, when and how someone was killed.

Images: The McStay Family

Merritt pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

"This case screams for not guilty. This case screams for Mr. Merritt to be acquitted. Justice demands it," McGee said. 

Jurors could get the case Thursday. If convicted, Merritt could face the death penalty.

Deputy District Attorney Britt Imes talks to jurors as he wraps up the case in closing arguments on Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Joseph, Summer, Joseph, Jr. and Gianni McStay were found buried in a shallow grave in the desert in San Bernardino County.
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