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Death Penalty Trial Underway for Charles Merritt in 2010 CA Quadruple Murder - Page 4
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Thread: Death Penalty Trial Underway for Charles Merritt in 2010 CA Quadruple Murder

  1. #31
    Senior Member Frequent Poster Steven's Avatar
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    Oct 2018
    Huntsville, Texas
    Key prosecution evidence ‘flopped’ in McStay family murder case, defense contends

    Lawyers for Charles "Chase" Merritt are expected to start presenting their case.

    By Richard K. De Atley
    The San Bernardino Sun

    After two months of trial, there’s still no evidence that Charles “Chase” Merritt of Rancho Cucamonga killed business partner Joseph McStay, his wife and their two small sons, a defense attorney claimed this week.

    Merritt faces the death penalty if convicted as charged in the case.

    Since opening statements Jan. 7, prosecutors have tried to show jurors that he was the person who killed the McStay family in their Fallbrook home in northern San Diego County and buried them near the High Desert town of Victorville in San Bernardino County.

    The trial has been on hiatus since the prosecution rested March 4. It is expected to resume Tuesday, March 12, in the downtown San Bernardino courtoom of Judge Michael A. Smith.

    Merritt and McStay had developed a business relationship to create large custom waterworks for clients that included customers in Saudi Arabia and Paul Mitchell hair salons. McStay took care of design and sales and Merritt the intricate construction work.

    Merritt, who said McStay was his best friend, “desperately tried to cover his tracks after the murder” and “misled investigators, talked in circles, and played the victim” before he was arrested and charged, San Bernardino County prosecutor Sean Daugherty said in opening statements. He said Merritt killed the family out of greed.

    But two months later, defense attorney Rajan Maline asked, “What happened here? Where’s the evidence we all thought was coming?”

    “It didn’t materialize, ” he said Thursday in an interview a few days before Merritt’s attorneys begin presenting their case to jurors.

    San Bernardino County prosecutors have stated previously they will not comment on the case while trial is in progress.

    Prosecutors said DNA evidence from the McStay family Subaru, found parked in San Ysidro near the Mexican border after the family disappeared, would link Merritt to the slaying. And on Feb. 6, 2010, two days after the family disappeared, cell tower evidence would place McStay near the High Desert grave sites, they said

    “Those flopped,” Maline said Thursday.

    Authorities say Merritt, 61, fatally bludgeoned McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their two children, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, in their Fallbrook home in San Diego County on Feb. 4, 2010, then buried their bodies in two shallow graves in the Mojave Desert, north of Victorville and west of the 15 Freeway.

    Merritt and McStay met in the afternoon of Feb. 4 at a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga. Merritt said it was to discuss their custom water-feature business.

    The suspected murder weapon, a 3-pound sledgehammer, was found in one of the graves. Sheriff’s investigators believe Summer McStay may have been raped before she was killed.

    The family had moved to Fallbrook, 45 miles north of San Diego, in November 2009 from San Clemente.

    The bodies were found in November 2013 and Merritt was arrested and charged a year later.

    Cell phone data could not pinpoint

    Maline said defense cross-examination about cell phone data showed it could not pinpoint Merritt’s phone near the grave site.

    “Is it also fair to conclude that the only reasonable opinion or conclusion you can make from this data is that the cell phone was in the High Desert area?” defense attorney James McGee asked FBI Special Agent Kevin Boles, who testified Feb. 26.

    That exchange is from YouTube audio of the testimony from the Law & Crime website, which as been live-streaming the trial as well as posting audio and video.

    “Yes, I believe that’s a fair assessment. … You can get a general idea of where in the High Desert, but still it’s not very precise,” said Boles, who had analyzed the data.

    In opening statements, Daugherty said the data made Merritt the only person associated with the McStays who also had a connection to the High Desert, but Maline said Boles’ testimony was “very helpful to our case.”

    DNA evidence diminished

    Maline also said testimony devalued evidence of Merritt’s DNA lifted from the family’s white Isuzu Trooper, found parked in a San Ysidro parking lot near the Mexican border Feb. 8. 2010. It led authorities to believe for a while that the family might be in Mexico.

    Testimony showed that Merritt was a trace contributor, a DNA amount that could be transferred to a steering wheel from casual contact with Joseph McStay, including a handshake, Maline said.

    If Merritt was the driver for the 90-minute trip from Fallbrook to San Ysidro, “He would have been the main (DNA) contributor,” the attorney said.

    Merritt, who has a criminal record of burglary and petty theft in three California counties, was happy and successful in his venture with McStay, going on to complete projects in 2010, even after McStay disappeared, Maline said.

    Defense says suspect overlooked

    Maline repeated the defense contention that it has developed evidence another business associate of Joseph McStay, Daniel Kavanaugh, was overlooked by investigators as a suspect in the case.

    Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.

    One of the McStay’s businesses was an online outlet for decorative fountains, Earth Inspired Products, and it was Kavanaugh’s work that boosted the company’s web appearances when people searched online for that product.

    But Kavanaugh was not included in McStay’s new venture with Merritt, the creation and sale of large, custom-built water features. Defense attorneys have said Kavanaugh was angry that McStay was keeping him out that growing, bigger-money operation.

    Kavanaugh also took over Earth Inspired Products after McStay disappeared and made $250,000 before it ended, Maline said. He said it was Kavanaugh, not Merritt, who was responsible for the company’s eventual decline.

    The prosecution has one more expert due to testify when trial resumes. That witness is expected to offer more analysis that it was Merritt’s truck briefly captured the night of Feb. 4 by a home video security camera on the McStay’s street in Fallbrook.


  2. #32
    Senior Member Frequent Poster Steven's Avatar
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    Oct 2018
    Huntsville, Texas
    Expert says Merritt truck ‘cannot be excluded’ as vehicle on McStay neighborhood video

    Defense challenges conclusions, saying they were formed to confirm the prosecution's view of the case.

    By Richard K. De Atley
    The San Bernardino Sun

    An expert testified Tuesday that Charles “Chase” Merritt’s pickup truck “cannot be excluded” as the vehicle caught briefly on a security video driving away from the Fallbrook home of the McStay family the night in 2010 prosecutors say they were slain and disappeared.

    Prosecution witness Eugenio Liscio used a laser scan of Merritt’s 2000 Chevrolet 350 truck, outfitted with storage compartments and an elevated rack over the bed, and imposed that image over the grainy black-and-white video. He used a software program to make the analysis.

    Merritt’s defense attorney James McGee pushed back, saying Liscio had not used all the video evidence available, questioned how he arrived at some measurements, and suggested some of his conclusions may have been formed to fit the bias of the prosecution, who was paying him.

    Liscio denied that, and reminded McGee more than once that he had not identified the truck specifically as Merritt’s

    Merritt, 61, who lived in Rancho Cucamonga at the time the investigation began, is being tried in the capital murder case in the downtown San Bernardino Justice Center before Judge Michael A. Smith.

    He has pleaded not guilty to the charges that he killed Joseph McStay, 40, a former business associate; his wife, Summer, 43, and their two children, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, in their Fallbrook home on Feb. 4, 2010, then buried their bodies more than 100 miles away — in two shallow graves in the Mojave Desert, north of Victorville and west of the 15 Freeway.

    Prosecutors said Merritt killed out of greed, and tried to loot McStay’s business account. His defense attorneys have pointed to another McStay business associate as suspect, and said Merritt depended on McStay for income through contracts to build high-end custom water features that McStay designed and sold.

    Liscio cautioned under questioning by San Bernardino County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Britt Imes that he could not definitively say the truck on the video was Merritt’s.

    The low quality of the video camera, which caught the truck’s headlights as glaring blobs, rather than the rectangular shape they have, prevented precise measurements, he said.

    Among the items that helped to reach the conclusion that the vehicle was “consistent” with Merritt’s truck was a glint caught by the video that matched the position of a latch on a passenger-side storage box toward the rear of the truck, said Liscio,who uses 3D imagery.

    McGee played for Liscio a different security video from the same home, but from a side yard, with a view more perpendicular to the street. He asked if a “bright and constant” light from the side couldn’t be the truck’s taillight.

    That video was not used in the analysis.

    “Why won’t you say this is a taillight?” McGee asked.

    “It’s not about what I can or can’t say. Its about what the evidence can show and sometimes the evidence can only take you to a certain point,” Liscio said. He said there was little to work with, with the side yard video.

    “If that is a taillight, then that does not match the characteristic of the … Chevy 350 that you analyzed?” McGee asked Liscio, over an overruled prosecution objection.

    “I’m not saying that this your client’s vehicle,” Liscio repeated. “All I am saying is that the vehicle in question is consistent with my report, and if there is another vehicle that looks similar, that is possible.”

    Prosecutor Imes read the Liscio report’s “cannot be excluded” conclusion into the record, and Liscio said none of the questions raised by McGee on Tuesday had changed it.

    Other measurements Liscio did based on the video and the laser scan was the position of the headlights, the height of the truck, the shape of the shadows thrown at the back of the truck and the position of the truck’s exhaust pipe.

    He testified his quote for services was $14,000. Prompted by Imes, he told jurors he would get paid even if his conclusions were not favorable to the prosecution.

    Liscio was the prosecution’s last witness in the case. Defense witnesses are expected to be called Wednesday.


  3. #33
    Senior Member Frequent Poster Steven's Avatar
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    Oct 2018
    Huntsville, Texas
    Charles Merritt’s daughter: ‘I don’t have any reason to lie for him’

    The defense in the McStay family murder case begins its case by calling Charles 'Chase' Merritt's daughter to the stand.

    By Richard K. De Atley
    The San Bernardino Sun

    The daughter of McStay family slaying defendant Charles “Chase” Merritt testified Wednesday that her parents quarreled after Merritt didn’t answer a phone call from Joseph McStay on the evening of Feb. 4, 2010.

    Prosecutors contend that Merritt, in fact, was killing McStay and his family in their Fallbrook home on that very night.

    Sara Taylor Jarvis, now 24, was the first witness for the defense in a trial that began in early January. Her testimony Wednesday was challenged by Deputy District Attorney Melissa Rodriguez, who said her father had talked to her about how to testify; Jarvis denied Rodriguez’s allegation.

    Merritt, 61, has pleaded not guilty to the charges that he killed McStay, 40, a business associate, his wife, Summer, 43, and their two children, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, in their San Diego County home more than nine years ago.

    Investigators said he buried their bodies more than 100 miles away in a remote spot north of Victorville. The bodies were found in November 2013 and Merritt was arrested and charged a year later.

    The family had moved to Fallbrook, 45 miles north of San Diego, in November 2009 from San Clemente. They were in the process of remodeling their four-bedroom, three-bathroom home when they went missing.

    Jarvis on Wednesday said Joseph McStay was “my dad’s business partner and his best friend.” Prosecutors say Merritt killed McStay out of greed, and looted his business account.

    The two men worked on large-size custom water features, with Merritt building the metal sculptures designed by McStay, who also sold them. Defense attorneys say Merritt’s income depended on business from McStay, and he had no reason to kill him. The say another business associate of McStay has been ignored as a suspect.

    In her testimony Wednesday, Jarvis said Merritt and McStay started working together when she was 11 or 12 years old.

    She told defense attorney Rajan Maline that she recalled her mother, Catherine Jarvis, and Merritt getting into an argument the evening of Feb. 4, 2010 after her father declined to answer a phone call from McStay.

    She told Rodriguez she didn’t “physically” see the incoming call, but remembered the content of the argument. When, she said, Merritt tried to call McStay back later, there was no answer.

    “It turned into less of an argument and more of — the next day my dad couldn’t get ahold of Joseph and in the subsequent days the conversation turned more to my mom saying, ‘now you can’t get ahold of Joseph’ “

    “And as time went on, it became, ‘what if that was an emergency call or a call for help,’ ” she testified.

    Sara Jarvis told Maline the call came while the family was at the Rancho Cucamonga apartment complex where they lived in at the time.

    Rodriguez challenged her account, saying Merritt had talked to Jarvis recently about the need to place him in Rancho Cucamonga on the night of Feb. 4, 2010.

    Defense attorneys failed last month to keep prosecutors from using evidence from planted device recordings of jailhouse meetings between Merritt and his family in recent months.

    Merritt had stopped using the monitored intercom phones provided for inmates to talk to visitors and started talking to visitors including his family by shouting through the security glass, prompting the use of hidden devices, prosecutors said.

    “You talked about evidence that was presented during trial, right?” Rodriguez asked, and Jarvis agreed.

    “And he talked to you about the phone towers, right?”


    “And specifically told you about the need to be at home on the night of the fourth, because his phone was pinging off of a tower in the Riverside area. Do you recall that part of the conversation?” Rodriguez asked.

    “I don’t know if he said he needed to be home. But I remember talking to him in general about the phone towers,” Jarvis answered.

    When Maline followed Rodriguez and asked Jarvis why her family had discussed the case in jail meetings, Jarvis broke down in tears. “Our whole family is part of this,” she said. She is pursuing a law degree because of the case, she said.

    “In the entire 4-1/2 year period that you have been visiting your dad (in jail), has he ever once told you to lie for him?” Maline asked.

    “No.” Jarvis said. “He’s actually been really specific. He said, like, if you don’t rememeber something, don’t say it.

    “I don’t have any reason to lie for him.”

    Trial in the San Bernardino courtroom of Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith is scheduled to resume Thursday.


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