By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Southern California jury on Monday found an ex-convict guilty of murder in the 2010 sledgehammer killings of a family of four whose remains were later found buried in the desert, an official said.
The San Bernardino County Superior Court jury found Charles "Chase" Merritt, 62, guilty of four counts of murder, said Tera Sorensen, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office.
The jury announced its verdict after coming to its decision on Friday, capping seven days of deliberations on the fate of Merritt, whom authorities described as a former business associate of the slain father, Joseph McStay.
McStay, 40, his 43-year-old wife, Summer, and their two sons - 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr - were reported missing in February 2010 from their home in the San Diego community of Fallbrook.
Their skeletal remains were unearthed in 2013 from shallow graves near Victorville, northeast of Los Angeles. All four had been killed inside their home the day they were last heard from, and died of blunt-force trauma.
A sledgehammer believed to be the murder weapon was recovered from the burial site, detectives testified at trial, according to media accounts.
The slayings resulted from a financial dispute between McStay, who owned a business making decorative fountains, and Merritt, a welder who worked for McStay fabricating the custom pieces, authorities said.
Prosecutors had said they would seek the death penalty.
Now that jurors have found Merritt guilty, the trial will enter a sentencing phase beginning on Tuesday in which jurors will decide whether to recommend the defendant be executed or receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Robert Birsel and Dan Grebler)