By Jeff Pack

Detective indicates his findings couldn't prove McStays were killed in home


Last updated 2/8/2019 at 1:41pm

Charles "Chase" Merritt looks on as San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department detective Sgt. Ryan Smith looks at documents on a screen during trial proceedings last week

The defense team for Charles "Chase" Merritt called San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department detective Sgt. Joseph Steers Thursday, Jan. 29, to discuss his involvement in the McStay family homicide investigation.

Steers was brought into the case to investigate the investigation performed by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department as well as the grave site location.

Merritt is accused of murdering Joseph and Summer McStay as well as the couple's two young sons in Fallbrook in 2010 and burying their bodies in a San Bernardino desert.

The McStay family, who lived in the Lake Rancho Viejo housing development east of Interstate 15, was last seen alive Feb. 4, 2010. Relatives reported them missing a few days later.

In November 2013, the skeletal remains of the four family members were discovered in shallow graves by a motorcyclist in the Mojave Desert. Records show that all four were beaten to death, most likely with a sledgehammer.

Merritt was arrested and charged with their murders roughly a year later.

During the trial, prosecutors from the San Bernardino County District Attorney's office have maintained that Merritt killed the McStay family inside their Fallbrook home.

During questioning, Steers was asked by the defense whether or not he saw any evidence that the confirmed to him that crime happened inside the McStay house.

"In totality, I believe they did happen in the house," Steers said.

The defense team corrected his response to the question.

"That's not my question, sir, I didn't ask you what you believe," the defense said. "I said did you see any evidence that showed you that the crime happened in that house."

"No," Steers responded.

"But you believe it did?" the defense attorney asked.

"Yes," Steers said.

The prosecution then called Dr. Diana Wright, a forensic examiner in the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.

Wright received several samples from investigators surrounding paint samples attached to items gathered from alleged crime scenes.

"My overall conclusion was that it was inconclusive," Wright said.

"So, if I understand you correctly, there was enough similarities between the two, but, based upon your research into that, the environment or cleaning supplies can have an impact on the samples that you observed?" the prosecution asked.

"Yes," Wright responded.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department homicide detective Sgt. Ryan Smith testified Jan. 29 and again Jan. 31.

Smith testified about car keys, house keys and tire tread associated with the investigation.

Carmen Garcia, an employee of Metro Sheet Metal, testified Jan. 31 about the relationships between Metro Sheet Metal, Merritt and Joseph McStay in dealings regarding McStay's Earth Inspired Products.

She also testified that she became "quite uncomfortable" being around Merritt while in the shop.

Also Jan. 31, T-Mobile's Michael Bosillo, a custodian of records testifier, testified about cellphone records regarding Merritt's cellular activity Feb. 4, the day prosecutors have said the McStay family went missing.

AT&T Compliance Analyst David Lipnitzky also testified about phone records and cell tower data.

Much of the trial over the course of the past week has been going over the details and findings of investigators and supporting documents. Court was not in session Feb. 4-5 and was expected to return to session Wednesday, Feb. 6.

Jurors traveled to the high desert last week to view the shallow grave site of the McStay family, but San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith would not permit members of the public and media at the visit.

Jeff Pack can be contacted at

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Joseph Steers responds to questions from the defense team last week.


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