California man sentenced to death for killing family of 4

January 21, 2020 - 4:39 pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Southern California man was sentenced to death Tuesday for the 10-year-old killings of a family of four whose bodies were found buried in shallow graves in the California desert.

Charles “Chase” Merritt was convicted in June of killing his former business associate Joseph McStay, McStay's wife, Summer, and their 4- and 3-year-old sons, Gianni and Joseph Jr. Prosecutors say he bludgeoned them with a sledgehammer.

The family disappeared without a trace in February 2010. Their bodies were not found until 2013, when an off-road motorcyclist came across them in the Mojave Desert.

San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael Smith upheld the jury's recommendation of death following a two-day sentencing hearing that included a flurry of last-minute motions from Merritt and his lawyer, who accused prosecutors of misconduct, Merritt's earlier attorneys of incompetence and, on Monday, tried to remove the judge himself from the case. All of the motions were denied.

In an emotional statement delivered after his sentencing, Merritt continued to maintain his innocence, lashing out at prosecutors and witnesses he said framed him and the judge he claimed allowed it to happen.

“I loved Joseph," he said. “He was a big part of my life and my family’s life. I would never have hurt him in any way. I would have never raised my hand for a woman or child. I did not do this thing."

The victims' family members, including McStay's mother, made equally emotional statements telling how the killings had scarred their lives.

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