Charles “Chase” Merritt was sentenced to death on Tuesday after being convicted of murdering an entire family and dumping their bodies in a shallow Southern California desert grave in 2010.
Merritt, 62, was convicted in June of killing his business associate, Joseph McStay, and his family over a monetary dispute. Merritt was found guilty on four counts of first-degree murder, for the deaths of McStay, McStay’s wife Summer, and the couple’s 3- and 4-year-old sons.
Prosecutors said Merritt used a sledgehammer to kill his victims because he owed Joseph McStay money and was being cut out of their business, which was making and selling custom water fountains.
The McStays were missing since February 2010, but their bodies were eventually discovered in 2013. A motorcyclist stumbled upon their skeletal remains in the Mojave Desert and found the murder weapon alongside them. Merritt was later arrested in 2014.
Prosecutors said financial records show Merritt tried to loot the business’ bank accounts just before, and after, the family disappeared. He even backdated checks to Feb. 4, 2010, which was the last day anyone had contact with Joseph McStay.
FILE – In this Jan. 7, 2019, file photo, murder defendant Charles Ray Merritt sits in San Bernardino County Court prior to opening statements in San Bernardino, Calif. A jury verdict will be read in the case of a Southern California man charged with killing a family of four and burying their bodies in the desert. The verdict will be read Monday, June 10, 2019, in court in San Bernardino in the quadruple murder case against 62-year-old Charles “Chase” Merritt. (Will Lester/The Orange County Register via AP, Pool, File)
After the jury recommended the death penalty, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael Smith upheld their decision following a two-day sentencing hearing, The Associated Press reported.
Merritt’s lawyers reportedly tried to broach the subject of prosecutorial misconduct and also attempted to remove the judge from the case. Smith was not convinced and denied all motions.
Merritt got the chance to make a statement and said he loved Joseph McStay like a brother. He claimed he’d never do anything to hurt him or his family.
“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.”
Joseph McStay’s mother, Susan Blake, called Merritt “a despicable, evil monster.”
Smith ordered Merritt to be transferred to San Quentin State Prison until his execution date is set, according to The Associated Press.
There have been no executions in the state of California since 2006, which leaves Merritt’s fate up in the air.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., signed an executive order in March that put a moratorium on the executions of 737 inmates, and he decried the use of the death penalty.
“We cannot advance the death penalty in an effort to soften the blow of what happens to these victims,” Newsom said at the time, after signing the order. “If someone kills, we do not kill. We’re better than that.”
Fox News’ Frank Miles and The Associated Press contributed to this report.