Charles Ray Merritt, now 58, denies killing Joseph McStay, 40, wife Summer McStay, 43, and their two sons, 4-year-old Giovanni, and 3-year-old Joseph Jr. in 2010.
Defendant Merritt and Joseph McStay were partners in a business; McStay reportedly made sales and got the orders for Merritt, who reportedly crafted artistic indoor waterfalls for customers.
During a two-minute-long hearing in the downtown San Bernardino courthouse today, May 15, the defendant told a judge he was ready to defend himself at a preliminary hearing set for next Tuesday, May 19.
Merritt has been acting as his own attorney since January of this year. The prosecutor is charging him with the special circumstances of multiple murders, which makes the case eligible for the death penalty.
The McStay family was declared missing from their home on Avocado Vista Lane in Fallbrook in February of 2010.
The McStay family had reportedly moved into their new residence two months prior. Joseph McStay was reported missing by his brother, Michael, who contacted the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, which began an investigation.
On February 8, 2010, four days after the family had last contacted loved ones, their white Isuzu Trooper was found abandoned at a parking lot near the international border with Mexico. For years afterward, there was widespread speculation about dark and grainy surveillance video that was released by investigators; this seemed to show two adults with two small children walking across the border into Mexico.
Three years after the mystery began, in April of 2013, the sheriff’s department declared that the McStay family voluntarily disappeared.
Seven months after that declaration, four bodies were found in a shallow grave in the desert near Victorville, California. Reportedly, an off-road motorcyclist found a skull in the sand, possibly exposed by animal activity, on November 11, 2013.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department took over the investigation, and one year later, on November 5, 2014, they arrested Merritt on suspicion of murder.
Merritt was first represented by private counsel, for two court appearances, and then he obtained permission to act as his own attorney. However, judge Michael A. Smith has assigned attorney David Call to act as advisory counsel for the defendant, who also has benefit of a professional investigator.
The preliminary hearing is scheduled in Department S1, on the second floor of the downtown San Bernardino courthouse, at 9 a.m. next Tuesday, May 19.