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By Jeff Pack

Merritt's daughter, former live-in girlfriend testify


Last updated 3/25/2019 at 2:56pm

Photo courtesy of Law & Crime

Charles "Chase" Merritt is accused of killing Joseph and Summer McStay, along with their two young boys, in February 2010.

The daughter and live-in girlfriend of accused murderer Charles "Chase" Merritt testified on behalf of Merritt, hoping to convince the jury that Merritt isn't guilty 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 in 2010.

Sara Taylor Jarvis, now 24, was the first witness called by the defense and was pushed by the prosecution who contended that Merritt talked to her about how to testify – but Jarvis denied that assertion.

"Did he ever talk to you about things you needed to remember before you testified?" the prosecution asked.

"No, I don't think so," Sara Jarvis said.

"Do you know of any reason or were you present for any conversation when he told your mom things that she needed to remember before she testified?" the prosecution asked.

"I've been present for him asking if she remembered certain things," Sara Jarvis said.

"Do you remember him specifically telling her she needed to remember things a certain way?" the prosecution continued.

"Not a certain, I don't think," Sara Jarvis said.

The prosecution pushed Merritt's daughter on conversations they said she had with her father regarding a documentary that is being done on the case and the number of interviews she has given regarding the case.

Sara Jarvis testified that she was 11 years old when her father began working with Joseph McStay and met her dad's business partner at her dad's shop and spent time with the McStay family at dinners. She said she was present at the McStay's wedding.

During testimony, she said she realized that something was wrong in February 2010 when her father couldn't reach McStay. Sara Jarvis was 15 years old at the time and said she remembered her dad getting a call from McStay Feb. 4, but her father didn't pick up because he was on a phone call with her mother.

Prosecutors have said that Merritt was killing McStay and his family in their Fallbrook home on that night.

During cross-examination, Sara Jarvis said she recalled telling investigators that her father was bad with money, was a good poker player and sometimes gambled to make money for car payments.

Her mother Catherine Jarvis took the stand next and went over the details of her relationship with Merritt, whom she had three children.

She and Merritt started the business they shared with terracotta pots and grew it by 2002. She testified that she and Merritt got into arguments about finances in relation to the business because she was better with money and he was more creative.

The defense questioned Catherine Jarvis about a meeting that was held in regard to Joseph McStay going missing and how the business would continue to operate.

"Was Dan Kavanaugh there?" the defense asked.

"No," Catherine Jarvis replied.

The defense asked if Kavanaugh's name came up in the meeting and whether she knew him. She said his name may have come up and that she had never met him.

The defense has contended that investigators focused on Merritt as the main suspect early on in the investigation and never considered Kavanaugh as a suspect, though they maybe should have.

Under cross-examination Thursday, March 14, the prosecution pushed Catherine Jarvis on Merritt's character.

"Do you recall telling one of the detectives that you could ask any one of his business partners that he gets involved with people, and people will help him, and things work out for a while and he ends up pissing them off?' prosecutors asked.

"I was over exaggerating, but yes, he has pissed people off," Catherine Jarvis responded.

"Do recall telling detectives that he was going to get involved in something bad somewhere?" prosecutors said.

"I felt like at some point, something, somebody, you know, somebody may take things that Chase did the wrong way and come after him, yes," Catherine Jarvis said.

"Do you recall telling them that he doesn't care and he doesn't have any priorities?" prosecutors said.

"Yes," Catherine Jarvis said.

Prosecutors questioned Catherine Jarvis about phone calls between her and Merritt, pushing her regarding dates and times and statements she made to investigators.

Before the jury entered the courtroom, Tuesday, March 12, the defense team argued about prosecutorial misconduct.

"I told them (prosecutors) do not contact our experts for discovery, all discovery goes through attorneys," Merritt's defense team argued. "Decisions on whether we're calling a witness or not, those decisions haven't been made yet. This morning, Mr. (inaudible), over our objections, contacted our experts, telling them we want all notes, we want all reports, we want everything that you worked on in this case. In direct violation of the defendant's right to Sixth Amendment right to counsel and (inaudible). That's a direct breach in direct violation of a request of attorneys to not do discovery on their own. To go through counsel.

"We want an order of the prosecution to not do discovery on their own outside of counsel or the court. And we're looking at maybe sanctions and this might be sometimes reportable to state law," the defense team said.

"Oh, let's have that hearing, let's go," prosecutors shot back. "Let's do it. I would love to."

"We're not going to do it right now," Judge Smith said. "If you want to schedule a hearing of prosecutorial misconduct we will schedule a hearing, but we're not going to do it right now and interrupt testimony of witnesses."

The prosecution wrapped up their case later that day by calling Eugene Liscio, a 3D forensic analyst, to testify about using FARO SCENE software to analyze a video that prosecutors said was Merritt's truck traveling in the McStay's neighborhood Feb. 4, 2010.

The McStay family was last seen alive on that day 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 maintained that greed was the basis for Merritt committing the murders and said they will be seeking the death penalty in the case.

Testimony was expected to continue March 18, and jurors were informed that they should have a case to decide by the end of April.

Jeff Pack can be reached at


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