LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The man suspected of murdering the McStay family appeared in court Friday and asked if he could represent himself in the case.

Charles “Chase” Ray Merritt claims he’s ill and only has months to live. He said he dropped his lawyer because he wasn’t proving effective in speeding up the court process.

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His former attorney Robert Ponce said outside the courthouse, “The difficulty for Mr. Merritt was he wasn’t getting an opportunity to be able to get his matter before the court…as fast as he wanted to.”

Merritt’s sister left court saying she thought he made a mistake: “A non-attorney is not wise to represent himself.”

The judge was of the same opinion and advised McStay to reconsider.

Relatives of the McStay family wouldn’t comment outside court.

Merritt was arrested in Chatsworth and pleaded not guilty in November 2014 to four felony murder charges for the death of his 40-year-old business partner and his family.

Joseph McStay, his wife, 43-year-old Summer McStay, and their two children Gianni, 4, and Joseph M., 3, disappeared in Feb. 2010 from their Fallbrook home.

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.

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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.

Merritt, who is eligible for the death penalty, is believed to the sole suspect in the case.

At Friday’s court appearance, Ponce said Merritt is suffering from congestive heart failure and is desperate to try and clear his name, before it’s too late.

“He’s scared to death he’s going to die before he gets a chance of doing it,” Ponce told news outlets.

The judge approved his request to represent himself pending a medical evaluation to determine if he is medically capable of doing so.

A status conference was scheduled for Feb. 20, as well as a pre-preliminary hearing on April 3 and a preliminary hearing on April 7.


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