Greed drives businessman to kill ex-partner & his family, burying their bodies in desert

A man in California who killed his business partner, his partner’s wife, and their two sons and buried their bodies in the desert in February 2010 is facing the death penalty after he was convicted of their murders on Monday.

Charles Merritt, 62, was found guilty of fatally bludgeoning Joseph McStay, 40, Summer McStay, 43, Joey McStay Jr., 3, and Gianni McStay, 4, at their Fallbrook home. Nearly four years after the slayings, their bodies were discovered 100 miles away in a desert off Interstate 15 in Victorville, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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According to the San Bernardino Sun, Merritt and Joseph had collaborated for the sale, design, and creation of large custom waterworks for clients in Saudi Arabia and other corporate businesses. McStay reportedly acquired customers while Merritt constructed the pieces.

Prosecutors claimed Merritt, who has been in custody since November 2014, was motivated by greed. They claimed the partnership became strained when McStay noticed Merritt was pilfering money from business accounts, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Prosecutors said Joseph sent an email to Merritt saying Merritt owed him $42,845 three days before the family disappeared. Afterward, Merritt forged checks to himself in Joseph’s name and dated them February 4—knowing that was the last day his business partner and his family were seen alive, according to the San Bernardino Sun.

The Los Angeles Times reported that authorities initially suspected the family-of-four had taken a trip and planned to return. Not only were their no signs of forced entry but searches on the family computer suggested they had traveled to Mexico—with their car being towed from a strip mall located near the border.

A break in the case came years later when a motorcyclist reportedly discovered a skull fragment off Interstate 15. The McStays were ultimately located in shallow graves—one of which also contained the sledgehammer presumably used in the 2010 slayings.

Joseph and the two children sustained a shattered skull while Summer suffered a fatal blow to the jaw. According to the Los Angele Times, the two children were presumably killed because they recognized their parents’ attacker.

Because the jury found multiple special circumstances in the first-degree murders, they now must decide whether they’ll recommend lethal injection or life in prison without parole for Merritt.

The penalty phase of the high-profile trial was scheduled to begin on Tuesday. Law & Crime reported that it’s expected to last five days.

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[Featured image: AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu]