Man Convicted Of Killing Couple, Their 2 Sons, 10 Years After Family’s Skeletal Remains Found In Desert

ID’s 'Two Shallow Graves' explores the controversial murder trial of Charles “Chase” Merritt.

The McStay family, pictured here in 2007, went missing in 2010 and their skeletal remains were found in 2013.

The McStay family went missing February 4, 2010 and nearly four years later, their skeletal remains were found in shallow graves in the desert. 10 years after their remains were found, Charles “Chase” Merritt was convicted of killing the family.

Photo by: Patrick McStay

Patrick McStay

By: Aaron Rasmussen

Nearly a decade after the skeletal remains of a family of four were found buried in the California desert, their accused killer was sentenced to death.

On Feb. 4, 2010, Joseph and Summer McStay, ages 40 and 43, and their two sons, Gianni, 4, and 3-year-old Joey Jr., vanished without a trace from their Fallbrook home. Family called authorities 11 days later, and police entered the home but found no clear signs of foul play.

After the McStay’s Isuzu Trooper was discovered in San Ysidro on the U.S.-Mexico border, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department theorized the McStays chose to leave the country and treated their disappearance as a voluntary missing persons case and not a crime.

Nearly four years later, however, law enforcement was proven wrong when, in November 2013, a dirt biker came across a child’s skull in the rugged Mojave Desert outside Victorville — around 100 miles from the McStays’ home, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Detectives then made the grisly discovery of the skeletal remains of Joseph and Summer and their children in two shallow graves along with a sledge hammer and an electrical cord, which was wrapped around the father’s neck.

According to police, the murder victims had been fatally beaten about their heads and faces and all died from blunt force trauma.

A year later, police arrested Joseph’s welder friend and former employee, Charles “Chase” Merritt, and accused him of committing the murders.

“I would never hurt him, never hurt Summer, Gianni, or Joseph Jr.,” Merritt has said. “He was my best friend.”

During the trial in January 2019, prosecutors insisted Merritt had a motive to kill his friend, claiming Joseph was attempting to sideline him from his custom-waterfall business, Earth Inspired Products.

The defense countered in court that all the case evidence was purely circumstantial and posited a second associate of Joseph’s also was being pushed aside and had motive to commit the slayings. The judge later said there was “no credible evidence” to suggest the second associate was ever involved in what happened to the McStays, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Over six years after the family of four lost their lives, Merritt was found guilty of four counts of murder, and, in January 2020, a judge sentenced him to death.

“The world was robbed of four beautiful souls,” Joseph’s brother, Michael McStay told the court.

For more information on this case, ID’s limited series Two Shallow Graves provides a look into Merritt's explosive murder trial via unparalleled access to both the defense and prosecution teams, shedding new light on the controversial case.

Two Shallow Graves is streaming now on Max.

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