Charles “Chase” Merritt’s booking released by the San Bernardino County Sheriff”s Department.

A man who allegedly murdered a Fallbrook couple and their two young children and buried their bodies in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder charges that could lead to the death penalty.

Charles “Chase” Merritt, 57, is charged in the deaths of Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their sons, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3.

The McStay family. Photos courtesy San Bernardino County Sheriff

Merritt, a Riverside County resident who had been Joseph McStay’s business partner in a decorative-fountain business, was arrested Nov. 5 in Victorville.

Investigators believe he acted alone in killing the victims, who died of blunt-force trauma in their home, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon told reporters last week.

Merritt appeared Wednesday before a judge in Victorville, who ordered him held without bail and scheduled a preliminary hearing for Nov. 25.

The McStays’ skeletal remains were found on Veterans Day 2013 — more than three years after they went missing — by a motorcyclist who was riding in an open area west of Interstate 15 near Victorville.

The boys’ remains were identified using DNA testing, while dental records confirmed the adult bodies were those of their parents.

The last known confirmed sighting of the family was on Feb. 4, 2010. They appeared to have left their northern San Diego County home in a hurry, leaving food on counters and their dogs unattended in their back yard, according to investigators.

— City News Service

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