By Jeff Pack

Prosecution rests its case against Chase Merritt, defense next up


Last updated 3/15/2019 at 2:21pm

Courtesy of Law & Crime

Chase Merritt, seated at left, looks at his defense team as it makes its case for a motion of acquittal in the murder of the McStay family of Fallbrook in 2010.

San Bernardino County prosecutors rested their case against Charles "Chase" Ray Merritt, Monday, March 4. Merritt is accused of killing the McStay family, Joseph, Summer and their two young boys who lived in the Lake Rancho Viejo housing development east of Interstate 15 in Fallbrook.

Merritt's defense team motioned the court for a judgment of acquittal after the prosecution closed its case.

"At this time the defense would make an 1118.1 motion," Merritt's defense team said. "As the court has heard the evidence in this case, the people have presented a lot of information that goes to motive, they have presented a lot of information saying, 'Well, we don't know where he was at this exact time, so he had an opportunity.' And the defense position would be that's not of a solid value. There's no evidence of a murder occurring inside the home, there's no evidence of clean up, there's nothing in the home that supports the theory that the people are presenting that the family was killed inside the home on the night of the fourth. If it happened any other day, they can't put our client anywhere near the home."

The prosecution had the opportunity to argue the motion.

"Your honor, the people believe that there is more than sufficient evidence for the court to deny the motion and allow a jury to make a decision on whether or not the people have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is the one responsible for the brutal murders of the McStay family," the prosecution countered. "Not only is there strong circumstantial evidence of motive, there's strong circumstantial evidence of means to carry out that crime as well as dispose of the evidence and bury the victims in the grave sites out in the desert. As well as substantial evidence of his opportunity to do so.

"We'd ask the court to deny that motion," the prosecution said.

San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith ultimately denied the defense's motion.

"As pointed out by both sides, this is strictly circumstantial evidence case and so I did spend a fair amount of time going through the testimony and the exhibits," Judge Smith said. "To thoroughly examine the evidence that was presented.

"If there is any substantial evidence to support a jury's finding of guilt then the motion to dismiss should be denied," the judge said.

Earlier in the day, the prosecution showed the jury a clip from the CNN interview that Merritt did with news channel about the case.

In the clip, the interviewer suggested, "You were the last person (McStay) saw."

"I am definitely the last person he saw," Merritt said.

Following the video, the prosecution rested its case, with the condition they can reopen to interview one more witness for analysis that it was Merritt's truck seen on a home video security camera Feb. 4, on the McStay's street in Fallbrook.

The jury was dismissed and ordered to return to court March 12 to resume the trial at which point the defense will present its case.

The McStay family was last seen alive Feb. 4, 2010, and relatives reported them missing a few days later.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department and FBI handled the investigation into the family's disappearance in the early years with no resolution.

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. At that point, the investigation was taken over by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

Prosecutors maintain that greed was the basis for Merritt committing the murders and have stated they will be seeking the death penalty in the case.

Defense attorneys have said that investigators zeroed in on Merritt early on the case and never looked at anything or anyone else.

It is expected that the defense will continue to point the finger at another business associate of Joseph McStay, Daniel Kavanaugh, who the defense said was overlooked by investigators.

Jeff Pack can be reached at

San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith dismisses the motion by Chase Merritt's defense team for a motion of acquittal.


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