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By Jeff Pack

Both sides rest in McStay family murder trial, Merritt opts not to testify


Last updated 5/23/2019 at 3:44pm

SAN BERNARDINO - Both sides in the McStay family murder trial taking place at San Bernardino Superior Court have rested their case on Thursday, May 23, and closing statements are planned for 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 28.

Charles “Chase” Merritt — who chose not to testify — is on trial in connection with the deaths of Fallbrook residents Joseph and Summer and their two young boys in February of 2010.

The state and defense teams resting their case came one day after Merritt's defense team asked Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith to dismiss the charges against their client, a mistrial and the removal of the entire prosecution team due to what they contend was a Brady violation.

“I do believe Mr. Merritt was prejudiced by that lack of information,” Maline said. “We are requesting the dismissal of all the charges. Alternatively, a mistrial, because in reality, this was post-conviction, and the remedy for Brady violations is a reversal. Alternatively, I think that jury instruction is appropriate. At the very minimum, Mr. Imes should be removed from this case, if not all the prosecutors — all three of them.

“And we’re asking for Dr. Lisio’s testimony to be stricken and not to be considered by the jury.

“By withholding that information, they made the plaintiff feel unlevel, they made it unfair. They denied our client 14th amendment due process rights. They created an atmosphere of unfairness and in light of the fact that they are prosecutors, they made a mockery of it.”

Judge Michael A. Smith ultimately denied the defense team's motions.

“It’s very disappointing for someone who believes in the justice system to think this is acceptable, this is okay,” said defense attorney James McGee.

Maline also criticized Judge Smith for admonishing the defense team during the trial in front of the jury and suggested that he was acting “as an advocate” for the district attorney during the trial.

“For the court to act as his advocate on this issue is very disappointing,” Maline said. “It puts us in a position where, how are we going to get a fair trial? How is it possible when the court is acting as an advocate and looking for ways to justify what they’ve done?”

Later Thursday, May 23, Judge Smith asked Merritt, “What’s your decision, do you want to testify or not?”

Merritt said no.

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. On Nov. 7, 2014, investigators announced the arrest of Merritt and charged him with four counts of murder.

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

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

It wasn’t until Jan. 7, 2019 that the trial began.

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.

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 by email at


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