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By Jeff Pack

DNA analysis takes center stage at McStay trial


Last updated 4/22/2019 at 9:53am

photo courtesy of Law & Crime

Chase Merritt is on trial for the deaths of the McStay family of Fallbrook after the family disappeared in February 2010.

The murder trial of Charles "Chase" Ray Merritt, 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 resumed Tuesday, April 9, in San Bernardino Superior Court.

Kathy Sanchez, the cousin of Summer McStay, was called by Merritt's defense team to testify April 9.

Sanchez, who is Summer McStay's cousin, testified about going to the McStay residence in Fallbrook with Summer's mother and Susan Blake, who is Joseph McStay's mother, to clean the house in spring or summer 2010.

Sanchez testified that she thought she had cleaned off a palm print she found on the outside of a kitchen window, but after a review of a transcript of her interview with detectives, she changed her testimony.

Sanchez also testified to seeing a futon cover that was falling apart, and she said it looked as though it had been shrunk in the washing machine after it was washed by Blake.

She testified that she was not able to put the covers back onto the futon.

In cross-examination, Sanchez admitted that it had been so many years after the date they did the cleaning, she couldn't be completely confident in her recollection.

The defense called Sgt. Ryan Smith regarding his interview with Sanchez and attempted to infer that Sgt. Smith had inserted his opinion into the report he made regarding the interview.

"Is it fair to say Miss Sanchez' statement didn't match the theory you had at the time?" the defense team asked.

"No, I believe Miss Sanchez' statement is that she didn't know and that's not really one way or the other," Sgt. Smith responded.

Later in the day, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith spoke directly to the jury and alternates about discussions between jurors in the courtroom regarding testimony, the length of the trial and other trial-related subjects.

"Basically, you really shouldn't be discussing or speculating about any of that," he said. "The reason for that is, it may not seem like you're talking about the case itself or deciding things, but when you start talking about things like that, it can affect the way you look at the evidence."

The defense also called Senior DNA Analyst Christina Nash regarding the DNA evidence that her lab tested and indicated that on several items collected there was not enough DNA on the items to make a comparison to come to a conclusion on whose DNA was on the items.

The defense called forensic analyst Beatrice Pujols and Dr. Mark Perlin with CyberGenetics for testimony Wednesday, April 10, on the DNA samples collected in evidence.

"Just to be clear, all the match statistics from all five known samples are exclusionary in nature?" the defense asked.

"Yes, they are," Perlin responded.

"From a statistical comparison of probabilistic genotyping analysis, the DNA you're seeing is more likely to found in a random sample than any of the known samples?" the defense asked.

"Correct and with anyone to be compared with," Perlin said.

On cross-examination, the prosecution attempted to discredit the testing at CyberGenetics and highlighted the fees being paid to the company and Perlin.

Perlin came back Thursday, April 11, for more testimony and questioning from the defense team before the court was dismissed for the weekend.

The bailiff announced Monday, April 15, that court was canceled for the day with no explanation.

Court was expected to resume Tuesday after press time.

The McStay family was last seen alive Feb. 4, 2010, and relatives reported them missing a few days later. Detectives thought initially that the family had gone on a trip and would return.

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.

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 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


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