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Judge Postpones Hearing For Suspect In McStay Murders

SAN BERNARDINO ( — A judge has delayed a hearing for prosecutors to lay out their case to determine if there is enough evidence to try a man charged with killing a Southland couple and their two young sons over five years ago.

Charles "Chase" Merritt was arrested in late 2013 for the murders of Joseph and Summer McStay and their sons, after their remains were found in a shallow desert grave in Victorville, nearly 100 miles north of their San Diego County home.

Members of both the McStay and Merritt families were on hand at the San Bernardino Courthouse for a preliminary hearing.

But the judge delayed the hearing after it was learned Merrit may have a new attorney and that he did not have his case file with him in court, CBS2/KCAL9's Tom Wait reported.

The hearing was rescheduled for Friday at 9 a.m.

A judge previously denied a media request to unseal investigative filings, and authorities have said little about the killings of Joseph McStay, 40; his wife, Summer, 43; and their sons, 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr.

Merritt's name first surfaced in the investigation in 2011. He was a business associate of Joseph McStay's, who designed and installed home water features. Merritt owned a waterfall company.

Authorities say the two met at a restaurant on the day the family is believed to have been killed. Merritt also told investigators that McStay's last cellphone call was to him.

When Merritt was arrested in November, authorities said they believed the family was killed in their Fallbrook home on the same day they disappeared — Feb. 4, 2010 — and died from blunt-force trauma.

But questions remained about a motive, why the entire family perished and how the McStays' bodies wound up miles from their home and their abandoned car.

Merritt, 58, has pleaded not guilty and is representing himself. He is being held without bail.

Back in January, Merritt claimed he was ill and only has months to live. He said he dropped his lawyer because he wasn't proving effective in speeding up the court process.

The case initially baffled investigators and prompted San Diego County sheriff's deputies to launch what they called their most extensive missing-persons search ever.

Four days after the family vanished, their white Isuzu Trooper was found at a San Diego shopping mall near Tijuana, Mexico. A dark surveillance video showed four people walking across the border.

Authorities initially thought they might have been the McStays but later discarded that theory.

Investigators said there were no signs of forced entry at the family home or in their SUV.

Nothing was missing from the home, and the couple's credit cards and tens of thousands of dollars in bank accounts were untouched.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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