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A California man has been found guilty of bludgeoning his best friend's family to death with a sledgehammer, leaving the bodies of the family of four in the desert for years before they were discovered.
The jury announced the verdict Monday morning, convicting Charles “Chase” Merritt of four counts of first degree murder for the deaths of Joseph McStay, 40, his wife Summer, 43, and the couple's two children, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Prosecutors believe Merritt killed Joseph McStay, his former business partner, and his family because he had been stealing from the company and was angry that he was being cut out of McStay’s water feature business, according to KABC.
He had reportedly owed Joseph McStay $42,845.
The family’s mysterious 2010 disappearance baffled investigators for years after the family seemingly vanished, leaving uneaten bowls of popcorn behind and no signs of forced entry to their home, the Associated Press reports.
The family’s vehicle was later found at a shopping center near the border to Mexico, suggesting the family may have gone to Mexico, but three years after the disappearance an off-road motorcyclist discovered skeletal remains in San Bernardino County.
The remains were later determined to belong to the McStay family. The family had been buried in a shallow grave alongside a sledgehammer that is believed to have been used in their death.
Authorities arrested Merritt, who was McStay’s friend and business associate, in 2014 after they traced his cellphone to an area near where the bodies were discovered.
Investigators also said Merritt referred to the family in past tense during an interview.
Prosecutors believe the motive for the murders was greed.
"The man, while claiming to be Joseph's best friend, was forging checks from Joseph's business, taking money from him," the prosecutor said during the trial, according to KGTV.
Merritt's attorney had claimed there was a lack of evidence to link him to the crime.
The defense alleged that if Merritt had killed the family in their home, there would have been clear indications of a struggle.
“Blood would be everywhere,” his attorney said, adding that the two men had been close friends.
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