The business associate of a California man was found guilty Monday of murdering him and his entire family. Joseph and Summer McStay and their two sons, ages 3 and 4, vanished from their San Diego County home in February 2010; their bodies were found buried in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert more than three years later. Prosecutors said greed led Charles “Chase” Merritt, 62, to bludgeon the family to death; Merritt owed Joseph McStay, with whom he did business, $42,845, and was reportedly being cut out from McStay’s custom water fountain business. After the family disappeared, Merritt forged checks to himself from McStay’s QuickBooks account, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Merritt’s defense team had argued that prosecutors relied solely on circumstantial evidence to build their case, and prosecutors acknowledged they couldn’t definitively prove the timing and location of the slayings thanks to the lack of a bloody crime scene. A rusty sledgehammer, which prosecutors said was the murder weapon, was found buried with the bodies. Merritt, who was arrested in 2014, was found guilty on four counts of first-degree murder, as someone in the courtroom called out, “Yes!” per KTLA. Prosecutors have previously promised to seek the death penalty; the penalty phase of the trial begins Tuesday. (Soon after they disappeared, Merritt was already speaking of the McStays in the past tense.)