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By Jeff Pack

Detective found 'no smoking gun' during investigation


Last updated 1/29/2019 at 3:12pm

San Diego County sheriff’s Detective Troy Dugal testified Jan. 16, that he found no evidence the McStay family was killed in their home during his investigation.

His testimony came in the trial of Charles “Chase” Merritt, who is charged with bludgeoning to death Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their two children, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, in February 2010 and burying their bodies in a San Bernardino desert.

Merritt has pleaded “not guilty” to four murder counts and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case.

Dugal said after he assumed the investigation Feb. 11, he spoke with many family members and friends regarding the family’s disappearance and determined it wasn’t typical.

“Now we are getting probable cause to get the search warrant. It took four days to get all the information so I could author a search warrant saying there’s probably a crime that was committed,” Dugal testified. “This family would be around if it hadn’t happened that way.”

He told defense attorney Rajan Maline that really all he had was the suspicious nature of the disappearance.

“There was no smoking gun,” Dugal said.

Maline asked Dugal whether he found anything unusual during a welfare check visit to the home Feb. 15.

“Obviously you’re looking for evidence. You’re looking for signs of something, is that correct?” he asked.

“I did,” Dugal responded.

“You didn’t see anything that caused you to have any type of suspicion?” Maline asked.

“I thought the residence was very unusual because there was a lack of furniture. … It was very hard for me to tell if there was a struggle. It was totally disrupted by home improvement, but other than that, I didn’t see anything of evidentiary value that would have given me the ability to lock that down and get a search warrant,” Dugal said.

The defense brought up changes to the home Jan. 16, that were noted by Dugal Feb. 19, 2010, when homicide investigators searched the home again, search warrant in hand.

The prosecution contended that the family was killed in the home and buried in the desert. The defense continued its theory that no blood was found in the home.

Dugal testified that Joseph McStay’s mother, Susan Blake, had entered the house and cleaned up before detectives had arrived for the Feb. 19 home investigation.

“She called me while she was in the house, while she was cleaning,” Dugal said. “I told her to stop it.”

After two and a half days of testimony, Dugal was asked by the defense in cross-examination what he did with the the case.

“Essentially, my investigation after somewhere around four years, had come to a place where … I had exhausted every single lead, every single tip, any evidence that I had produced was accounted for or didn’t help me in getting the probable cause I needed to move forward in the case,” Dugal told the jury. “The case was stalled. I didn’t know where the McStays were. I personally believe that they were probably in danger, but I didn’t know if that was in California, in the United States or Mexico or another country. I didn’t know if they had left.”

At that point, Dugal said he met with the FBI and asked them to take the case from him.

Former forensic evidence technician for the San Diego Sheriff’s office, Denys Williams, testified Jan. 17, about evidence found at the scene and specifically about possible blood spatter found on a kitchen table.

“During your six hours and 13 minutes of walking through the rooms, taking photographs, responding to detective’s directives, everything you did during your six hours and 13 minutes, did you ever once, during that time, find anything that shows that this was a scene where there would be possible blood evidence?” the defense asked.

“Only if that is blood on the table,” Williams said. “Which I didn’t see or find any, but I would have said the same thing if you would have said look at this table and put a flash on it and said look at this table, do you see any blood spots on it? And I would have said no. The answer is no, I didn’t find anything, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything.”

David “Joe” Sequeida of Metro Sheet Metal also testified Jan. 17. Sequeida testified that he worked with Merritt and Joseph McStay’s business, Earth Inspired Products.

He testified about having to step in and help with work that Merritt was meant to do and an issue regarding a check from McStay that was meant for Metro Sheet Metal.

“(Merritt) mentioned that he used those funds to purchase materials that he would use for one of the fountains,” Sequeida said.

“And was there a problem with that?” the defense asked.

“Yes,” Sequeida responded. “Because that check was allocated for us for the work that we put in for the water features.”

Court was not in session Friday, Jan. 18, and because of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday Monday, Jan. 21, court was not in session again.

They were scheduled to resume testimony Tuesday, Jan. 22, after press time. Livestreaming of the trial can be viewed at

Jeff Pack can be reached at [email protected]


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