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By Jeff Pack

Trial of Chase Merritt is bogged down by delays


Last updated 4/4/2019 at 8:13am

Charles "Chase" Ray Merritt is accused of killing the McStay family, Joseph, Summer and their two young boys and burying them in shallow graves in the San Bernardino desert.

Delays in the murder trial of Charles "Chase" Ray Merritt, who 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, has created large gaps in testimony, slowing the trial to a near standstill in San Bernardino.

After nearly a week off from the courtroom, a six-minute-long hearing was held Tuesday, March 26, that dealt with Merritt's defense's response to subpoenas from the prosecution for interviews with Merritt that were conducted by a documentary crew.

Since the defense had only one witness – Joseph McStay's brother, Michael – scheduled to testify for the remainder of the week, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith delayed the trial until April 3, after press deadline.

The McStay family was last seen alive Feb. 4, 2010, and relatives reported them missing a few days later. Their Fallbrook home appeared to indicate they left in a hurry that day with fruit left out and clothes scattered about the house.

Detectives thought initially that the family had gone on a trip and would return after searches on one of the family's computers showed a web search about documents needed for children traveling to Mexico.

Boosting that theory was the discovery of the family's Isuzu Trooper was found parked in a strip mall near the Mexican border and the San Diego County sheriff's investigators then turned the case over to the FBI.

Over the course of the next two years, the case gained national attention with tips coming in from all over the United States and the world.

Then, 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 owned by Joseph McStay.

At that point, the investigation was taken over by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. investigators announced the arrest of Merritt, Nov. 7, 2014, and charged him with four counts of murder.

Investigators believed that the McStays were killed at their home and transported by Merritt to the San Bernardino desert.

In November 2014, a defense attorney said Merritt is in poor health and wishes for a speedy trial. Then in January 2015, said he wanted to represent himself, claiming to have only six to eight months to live and that he couldn't afford an attorney.

It wasn't until Jan. 7, that the trial began and was expected to last three to four months at the time.

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

Detectives said Merritt deposited checks worth thousands of dollars from McStay after the family went missing, using QuickBooks and even called QuickBooks from his cell phone, identifying himself as Joseph McStay and asking to transfer the money in the account.

Defense attorneys have said that investigators zeroed in on Merritt early on the case and never looked at 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 [email protected]


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