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Suspect in McStay murders pleads not guilty

Summer McStay, left, Joseph McStay, right, and their two children, Gianni and Joseph Jr.
Family photo

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, pleaded not guilty Wednesday at his arraignment.

Chase Merritt, 57, appeared in a Victorville courtroom wearing a shirt and tie. The next hearing in the case was scheduled for Nov. 20. Merritt is being held without bail.

Merritt, of Homeland, Calif., was arrested and charged last week 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.

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.

In announcing the arrest Friday of Merritt, a former business associate of Joseph McStay, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said authorities believe the McStays were bludgeoned to death in their home on February 4, 2010.

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

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