A theory involving a sledgehammer allegedly used as the weapon in the McStay family killings is expected to be presented by the prosecution in court next week, according to a defense attorney for the man suspected in the murders.
Jimmy Mettias is part of a legal team that represents Charles Merritt, the man accused of killing 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 February 2010.
After much delay, Merritt’s preliminary trial is set to begin Monday in San Bernardino.
There, Mettias said prosecutors will likely argue that his client bludgeoned the victims to death with a sledgehammer inside their Fallbrook home before dumping their bodies in a very remote desert location in Victorville, Calif.
The remains of the slain family were found in shallow graves in the desert in November 2013 – more than three-and-a-half years after they vanished. Mettias said the sledgehammer was found in one of those graves alongside the skeletal remains.
According to Merritt’s attorney, the sledgehammer had paint on it, but no fingerprints.
Mettias expects prosecutors to allege that Merritt painted the McStay family’s home in an effort to cover up the killings. However, he said the paint on the sledgehammer does not match the paint Merritt allegedly used in his supposed plan to conceal the murders.
The attorney said prosecutors will likely claim the murders happened in the family’s Fallbrook home. However, Mettias said there is no evidence to indicate a crime this violent happened there – including blood, hair or sign of a struggle.
During the preliminary trial, Mettias said his legal team also expects prosecutors to bring forth evidence of cellphone tower pings related to Merritt’s cellphone.
Since his team took up the case last month, Mettias said they have sifted through nearly 15,000 pages of evidence.
If Merritt’s prelim moves forward on Monday, it will be the first time prosecutors reveal never-before-seen evidence in the McStay slayings case that baffled officials for years.
The preliminary hearing has been postponed several times over the past few months.
Originally, Merritt had chosen to represent himself in the case because he said he’s suffering from congestive heart failure and only has months to live. He claimed representing himself would allow him to move the case quickly to trial and prove his innocence.
In early April, Merritt’s pretrial hearing was delayed 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 case that could result in the death penalty.
In May, Merritt had a change of heart and hired Mettias and his legal team to represent him. Due to this legal switch, the preliminary hearing was postponed once more so the legal team could have time to review the evidence.
At that time, the prosecution also requested the continuance, which the judge granted.
After being hired by Merritt, Mettias stressed the importance of “moving this case along quickly."
“Even a cursory review of the various documents and discovery confirm our position and belief that Mr. Merritt is innocent,” Mettias said in a press release last month.
The case of the McStay killings has been shrouded in mystery since the family was reported missing on Feb. 4, 2010.
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.
Merritt was arrested in November 2014 in connection with the murders.
After Merritt’s preliminary trial occurs, a judge will decide if there’s enough evidence to send Merritt to trial.