"Greed, and greed's child, fraud" were behind the brutal murders of a California family in 2010, San Bernardino County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Sean Daugherty said as the trial of Charles Merritt began Monday. Merritt is accused of beating business partner Joseph McStay, 40, his wife Summer, 43, and their two sons, 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr., to death with a sledgehammer, the San Bernardino Sun reports. The bodies were found in shallow graves in the desert in Nov. 2013, more than three years after their Feb. 2010 disappearance. Prosecutors say Merritt, who did business with Joseph McStay's outdoor fountain business, killed the family for financial gain.
Daugherty said in opening statements Monday that Merritt, who allegedly had a gambling problem and was heavily in debt, wrote checks for more than $21,000 on McStay's business account after the family disappeared, the AP reports. He said Merritt "desperately tried to cover his tracks after the murders … misled investigators, talked in circles, and played the victim." He noted that when investigators spoke to Merritt soon after the McStays disappeared, he spoke about them in the past tense. Rajan Maline, Merritt's defense attorney, claimed that prosecutors had wrongly targeted Merritt and that another business partner, Daniel Kavanaugh, was the real killer. (Read more California stories.)