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McStay murder suspect has heart condition, lawyer says

Charles "Chase" Merritt at an arraignment hearing on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, in Victorville, Calif.

AP Photo/The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Jennifer Cappuccio Maher

VICTORVILLE, Calif. - The man charged with murdering the McStays, a family of four who disappeared in 2010 and whose remains were found last year in the California desert, has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, highlighting the need to move forward with a trial quickly, his lawyer said Thursday.

Robert Ponce, an attorney for 57-year-old Chase Merritt, said his client was diagnosed last week and is being treated by jail doctors, reports the Victorville Daily Press.

"I imagine the experience has exacerbated any condition he's had before," Ponce reportedly said. "He wants to resolve this case by trial as soon as possible."

Meritt, of Homeland, Calif., was arrested and charged early this month with four counts of murder in the deaths of Joseph McStay, 40; Joseph's wife, Summer, 43; and their two sons, Gianni, 4, and Joey, 3. Authorities have said the charges, which include a special circumstance allegation of committing multiple murders, make him eligible for the death penalty.

Merritt has pleaded not guilty is being held without bail. A spokesman for the San Bernardino County District Attorney said Thursday a decision on whether to seek the death penalty has not been made, according to the paper.

The McStays disappeared from their Fallbrook, Calif. home in February 2010. Investigators initially said they believed the family voluntarily fled to Mexico and the case was investigated as a missing-persons case for more than three years. That theory was shattered when the family's remains were found in November 2013 in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert, about 100 miles north of where they lived.

San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon has said investigators believe Merritt, a former business associate of Joseph McStay, bludgeoned the family to death in their home on February 4, 2010.

Authorities have not commented on a motive or what led them to make the arrest. They have said they believe Merritt acted alone.

Merritt briefly appeared in court Thursday, where it was announced the case will be reassigned from Victorville Courthouse to San Bernardino's central courthouse due to the "complexities" of the case, reports the paper.

Meritt's next court date is scheduled for January 30.

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