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By Jeff Pack

Jurors hear Merritt's interview with detectives, testimony from examiners


Last updated 2/1/2019 at 2:47pm

John Bluth testifies about the day he found human bones near where investigators say is the shallow grave site containing the remains of the McStay family near Victorville.

SAN BERNARDINO - Jurors in the trial of Charles "Chase" Merritt, charged with murder in the deaths of the McStay family of Fallbrook, heard the interviewing of Merritt by San Diego County investigators in the days after the family's disappearance.

"Up until the fourth, I can't remember a day that I haven't talked to him," Merritt told investigators in the Feb. 17, 2010, interview. "Almost every day, 10 to 15 times. (It's) been going on for at least two years."

He said the two were closely tied together by business with Joseph McStay's Earth Inspired Products and in the interview, said he was involved in roughly 75 percent of McStay's total business and his livelihood depended on the partnership.

But it was the use of past tense in a statement that prosecutors have seized upon in the case.

"Joseph was one of my best friends - not just a business associate," Merritt told the detectives just two weeks after the family was reported missing.

Merritt 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.

Prosecutors will be seeking the death penalty if Merritt is convicted of the charges.

The McStay family disappeared in February 2010 and just days later, their car was found abandoned in a San Ysidro parking lot. Years of investigations by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation turned up very little until November 2013, when their remains were discovered in shallow graves near Victorville.

The next few days of the trial centered around the discovery and subsequent investigation and excavation of the graves site.

John Bluth testified Tuesday, Jan. 22, about the day he found human bones near where investigators have said is the shallow grave site containing the remains of the McStay family.

He said he was traveling on a dirt road looking for trails and he thought he passed a trail, so he circled back to try to find it and on the way back he saw something that attracted his attention.

The prosecution asked him what he thought he saw.

"A bone," Bluth testified. "It just looked out of place, it was a white bone, it was round, it looked like a tortoise or something like that."

He didn't know what it was at the time, so he looked at it more closely and thought it might be a human bone. He then called 9-1-1.

Prosecutors asked why.

"Well, in case it was somebody, a baby or something like that, I thought that they should know about it," Bluth said.

The prosecution then played Bluth's call for the jury.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Gary Hart then testified to his responding to the call to investigate the alleged grave site in November 2013.

"This one was run a little bit different just because of how it was set up, the time of day and what we had," Sgt. Hart testified. "This was a situation where human remains were buried in the desert, we were running out of daylight. Normally, we would do the initiate the investigation immediately, but because the excavation had to occur, we delayed that excavation until the following morning."

Sgt. Hart said he and several other investigators initially responded to the scene. He said, Nov. 13, he escorted Dr. Alexis Gray to the site to visit each one of the pin flags to examine each bone to determine whether each bone was human or animal and collect the bones.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Armando Avila then testified about the terrain around the alleged grave site and what he observed during the excavation process.

The defense questioned Sgt. Avila about whether or not he spoke with the pathologist before the autopsy being performed on the remains.

"I did not," Sgt. Avila said.

Dr. Alexis Gray, a anthropologist consultant who works for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department Coroner Division, Kern County Sheriff's Department Coroner Division and Riverside County Sheriff's Department Coroner Division, then testified Wednesday, Jan. 23.

On Thursday, Jan. 24, Crime Scene Specialist Heatherly Radeleff testified about her part in the investigation.

She painstaking went over each piece of evidence she collected from the site, including the sledgehammer prosecutors maintain was the murder weapon Merritt used to bludgeon the family to death.

Crime Scene Specialist Heatherly Radeleff testifies about her part in the investigation.

Day 12 of the trail Monday, Jan. 28, saw the testimony of Susan Heckaman and Jeffrey Martin of Geis Companies and Geis Construction, a company who did business with Earth Inspired Products.

Dr. Chanikarn Changsri, Chief forensic pathologist for the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department Coroner's Division, also testified Jan. 28 about her investigation into the injury findings that led her to believe that the remains of the people she examined were caused by blunt force trauma.

They were scheduled to resume testimony Tuesday, Jan. 29, after press time. Livestreaming of the trial can be viewed at

Jeff Pack can be reached at


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