The suspect, Charles "Chase" Merritt, 57, has been described by
police as a former business associate of the father, Joseph McStay,
who was reported missing with his wife and two boys in February 2010
from the family's Southern California home.
But Merritt's brief appearance in San Bernardino County Superior
Court shed no new light on the circumstances of the family's deaths
or the disposal of their bodies.
County sheriff's investigators say Merritt, arrested in Los Angeles
on Nov. 5, is believed to have acted alone.
But they have kept mum about the means and motives for the killings,
except to say that all four victims - McStay, 40, his wife, Summer,
43, and their two sons, 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr.
- died of blunt-force trauma.
They said the four were all slain inside their home in the San Diego
County community of Fallbrook on Feb. 4, 2010.
San Bernardino County detectives took over the investigation last
November when the family's remains were unearthed near Victorville,
about 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
Merritt, dressed in a shirt and tie, his hands shackled to his
waist, said nothing and avoided eye contact with spectators during
his arraignment on Wednesday. His lawyer, Robert Ponce, entered a
plea of not guilty to the charges, adding, "and we are denying all
[to top of second column]
The judge ordered him to remain held without bond, and set the next
court date for Nov. 20. Merritt could face the death penalty if
Ponce spoke little to reporters after the hearing.
"This is a good opportunity for me to express my sincere sympathy to
the McStay family for their losses," he said. "My purpose (is) to do
everything I can for Mr. Merritt in this case."
Authorities say Merritt has served two state prison terms for
unspecified felony convictions, and that he knew Joseph McStay
because the two were in the decorative-fountain business together.
McStay's mother, Susan Blake, has said her son had loaned Merritt
"quite a bit of money."
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles;
Editing by Sandra Maler)
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