SAN BERNARDINO (CBSLA.com) — Joseph McStay’s business associate has been arrested in connection with the murder of him and his family, the San Bernardino County Sheriff announced Friday.
Charles “Chase” Ray Merritt, 57, was arrested Wednesday in Chatsworth on four felony murder charges. Merritt, who has a criminal past, was being held on a no-bail warrant.
Merritt made his first court appearance Friday afternoon, where agreed to postpone his arraignment to Nov. 12.
Joseph, 40, and 43-year-old Summer McStay and their two children Gianni, 4, and Joseph M., 3, went missing nearly four years ago.
The McStays left their San Diego-area home under unusual circumstances in February 2010. Investigators said there was no sign of a struggle in the upscale home and that there were even two bowls of freshly popped popcorn in the living room. The family also left two pet dogs behind.
The family’s remains were discovered on Nov. 11, 2013 in shallow graves near Highway 15 in the desert outside Victorville and later identified through dental records and DNA.
“The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma and investigators believe these murders occurred in the family’s Fallbrook home,” Sheriff John McMahon said.
San Bernardino detectives said they went over the initial missing persons investigation done by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the evidence led them to Merritt.
“There was no smoking gun,” Sgt. Chris Fisher said.
A motive behind the murder was not released, but Merritt and McStay were involved in the water fountain business together and became friends.
“Joseph was a great brother, great father, he would have done anything to protect the boys and Summer. He tried to protect Chase and provide work for him, and this is how he was repaid,” Michael McStay said.
Merritt, who is eligible for the death penalty, is believed to the sole suspect in the case.
CBS2’s Tom Wait said when Merritt did not enter a plea when he appeared in court Friday afternoon.
Merritt’s family did not comment as they left the courtroom, Wait reported.
“It’s been a rough road,” said Summer McStay’s mother, Blanche Almanza, “But today it closure, in a different way for all of us.”
Regarding the arrest she said, “The family is very relieved. Very relieved.”
Joseph McStay’s mother, Susan Blake, echoed that sentiment.
“I need justice from the law and the courts,” she said, “I need to talk to the judge and most of all, [I want] justice upstairs for my lovely family.”
On Friday evening, CBS2’s Crystal Cruz spoke to members of Merritt’s family.
They cannot believe he was involved in the murder of one person, let alone four.
“I’ve known him for 57 years and hes not even violent,” said Bennett Merritt, the accused man’s brother.
A woman who didn’t want to show her face, but said she was the accused man’s sister “Ann” said she cannot believe Chase is guilty.
“We just want to let people know, Charles wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s very tenderhearted. He’s a good man no matter what mistakes he made in the past. He couldn’t do no such thing.”
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