VICTORVILLE, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that he beat to death a family of four, then buried the bodies in the desert.

Charles "Chase" Merritt, 57, was ordered held without bail after a brief arraignment on murder charges in San Bernardino County Superior Court.

Merritt was arrested and charged last week with killing his business associate, Joseph McStay, McStay's wife, Summer, and their two sons, ages 3 and 4, at their home in the San Diego County community of Fallbrook.

The family's disappearance on Feb. 4, 2010, remained a mystery until the family's remains were found in shallow graves last year by someone riding an off-road vehicle in the desert outside Victorville.

Merritt was arrested last week in Los Angeles.

McStay owned a water-feature business and had asked Merritt, who also worked in the industry, to design and build some special waterfalls for him, authorities said last week. Investigators haven't released a motive.

Merritt's attorney, Robert Ponce, expressed sympathy for the McStays outside court, but he said he couldn't comment, according to the San Bernardino Sun ( ).

Merritt is due back in court Nov. 20 for a bail hearing.