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Charles Ray Merritt sentenced to death for killing the McStay family in 2010

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Today, Judge Michael A. Smith of the San Bernardino County Superior Court, pursuant to the recommendation by the jury, sentenced Charles Ray Merritt to death as a result of his conviction of the first-degree murders of Summer, Gianni, and Joseph Jr., McStay. Merritt also received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the first-degree murder of Joseph McStay.

Initial Investigation

On February 4, 2010, Joseph (41), Summer (44), Gianni (4) and Joseph Jr (3) McStay disappeared from their Fallbrook, California home. They were reported missing to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department on February 15, 2010. The sheriff’s department conducted an exhaustive investigation into the McStay’s disappearance.

During the initial investigation it was learned Joseph ran an on-line business selling both prefabricated and custom water features. Numerous people related to the business, including Charles Merritt, were interviewed. The family’s car was located abandoned in a parking lot near the US-Mexico Border in San Ysidro. Cell phone record indicated that the last time anyone had contact with the family was in the early evening hours of
February 15, 2010. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was enlisted to assist with the investigation; however, the case went cold.

San Bernardino Begins An Investigation

In November of 2013, an off-road motorcyclist discovered what appeared to be human remains in the desert north of Victorville, California. An investigation was initiated by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which included the exhumation of human remains from two shallow graves. A possible murder weapon, as well as items later believed to have come from the McStay’s Fallbrook home, were retrieved. After
consulting with the sheriff’s department in San Diego, it was determined the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department would be the primary investigative agency for the case.

During their investigation, dozens of witnesses were interviewed or re-interviewed. There were numerous search warrants served, and extensive scientific documentation and testing was completed.

Autopsies were completed and revealed a cause of death to be blunt force trauma, however; due to the extremely decomposed nature of the remains, other possible homicidal causing injuries could not be ruled out.

An analysis of financial records of the McStays and the business revealed the falsification of several financial documents which benefited Charles Merritt, and his attempts to delete the records of his actions.

Analysis of Charles Merritt’s phone records revealed there were significant periods of inactivity that connected with significant events which placed him in the Victorville area, where the shallow graves had been located.

DNA evidence linked to Merritt was found during an examination of the victim’s vehicle.

The Court Case

In November of 2014, Charles Merritt was arrested and charged with four counts of capital murder. The trial commenced on October 29, 2018. Supervising Deputy District Attorneys Sean Daugherty, Britt Imes and Melissa Rodriguez prosecuted the case, with the assistance of San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Ryan Smith as the case agent.

Eighteen men and women were drawn from across the county, and from a variety of professions, to hear this case as a jury. They sat through an extraordinary amount of testimony and were presented with a large quantity of exhibits. Despite missing the original estimated deadline in getting this case to them for deliberations, the jurors stuck to their sworn duty through to the end.

charles merritt victorville mcstay family
Charles Merritt entering the Victorville Courtroom for his set arraignment. (photo by Hugo C. Valdez,

Over the course of six months, the jury was presented with over 1000 exhibits and more than 60 witnesses.

On June 10, 2019, the jury returned guilty verdicts against Merritt, and a penalty verdict on June 24, 2019.

This case was a great impact on the personal and professional lives of the jurors. Without the willingness to commit themselves to this duty, our justice system would be paralyzed. The district attorney’s office is appreciative of the service they gave to the criminal justice system and their community.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office issued the following statement:

January 21, 2020 will be a day etched in so many people’s minds. Justice was delivered for the brutal murders of Joseph McStay and his wife, Summer, and their two small children, Gianni, and Joseph Jr.⁣

Charles Ray Merritt was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murdering Joseph, and he received a sentence of death, for the murders of Summer and the children.⁣

This was not a “win” today, as two families have suffered heartache which will last forever. Rather, this was the justice system working for a family of four who are no longer with us on earth, and for those loved ones who remain broken forever.⁣

(source: San Bernardino County District Attorneys Office)
(San Bernardino County District Attorneys Office)

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