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By Jeff Pack

McStay family murder trial may be nearing its conclusion


Last updated 5/28/2019 at 6:15am

Courtesy of Law and Crime Network

Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith tells the jury in the Chase Merritt murder trial that he expects to hand the case over to them by May 30. Merritt is accused of killing Fallbrook's Joseph and Summer McStay and their two children in February 2010.

Jurors were shown the video Monday, May 13, of the questioning of Charles "Chase" Merritt by detectives Edward Bachman and Daniel Hanke regarding the dates of Feb. 4 and Feb. 6 in connection with the deaths of Fallbrook residents Joseph and Summer and their two young boys.

Detective Bachman was on the stand as the video was shown and questioned by defense attorney Rajan Maline about inconsistencies in the investigators' reports and the questioning.

Dr. Leonid Rudin is the only witness left on the defense team's calendar and due to what is described as a "condition" suffered by defense attorney James McGee, the testimony or Rudin was delayed until Tuesday, May 21, for a morning session after press time.

Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith told the jury that court was expected to be in session Wednesday and Thursday, May 22-23, as well.

He said he was going to be going over the exhibits that would be made admissable and jury instructions during closing statements on those dates.

One juror has said that they would not be available after May 30.

"We're going to see where we are. I'm hesitant to say this, but there's a possibility the case can at least be given to the jury to begin your deliberations before the 30th," Judge Smith told the jury. "And then of course, how long you'll be deliberating will be totally up to you."

The prosecution has long complained that the defense team has stalled the case, which has lasted more than the estimated four months, in order to cause a mistrial.

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 believe 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 he can't afford an attorney.

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

Chase Merritt is seen in this file photo during opening arguments.

Prosecutors maintain that greed was the basis for Merritt committing the murders and have 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 cellphone, 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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