Monday, July 1, 2019

Jury Recommends Death in People v. Charles Merritt

On November 11, 2013, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department was notified of possible human remains in a desert area of Victorville, California.  The next day, Sheriff Department Homicide detail, along with the Coroner investigators, began excavating the graves and found the remains of four individuals, later identified as the McStay family: Joseph McStay, Summer McStay, and children Gianni McStay, and Joseph “Chubba” McStay Jr.  Coroner examination of the bodies revealed that each member of the family was killed by blunt force trauma to the head.   

The family was reported missing from their Fallbrook home in San Diego County on February 15, 2010.  A business associate of Joseph McStay, eventual defendant Charles Merritt, was interviewed by police two days later.  He spoke of the family in the past tense several times and told them he did not care for Summer.  San Diego County investigators learned the McStay family’s Isuzu Trooper truck was towed from a lot in San Ysidro on February 8, 2010.  DNA swabs were collected into evidence from the vehicle.  The samples were taken from the steering wheel, gear shifter, and control panel of the vehicle.  The samples were compared and matched the defendant’s DNA. 

 During the time period of the disappearance, the defendant’s cell phone was turned off.  Two days after the disappearance, however, the defendant’s cell phone signal was received by a cell phone tower in the desert area of Victorville.  The cell phone tower was located near the gravesite where the bodies would eventually be discovered.

Additionally, investigators learned of a business relationship Joseph McStay had with the defendant in the case.  McStay hired Merritt as a designer and builder of custom water fountains for his business.  It was later revealed that McStay loaned the defendant $30,000 to pay off a gambling debt.  A few days prior to the disappearance of the family, the defendant began writing and forging checks from McStay’s Quickbook checking accounts.  Merritt also wrote checks to himself after the disappearance but backdated them to the date of their last meeting. 

With this and additional evidence, Merritt was arrested for the murder of all four McStay family members.  The trial began in October of 2018 and was tried by veteran San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office prosecutors Sean Daugherty, Britt Imes, and Melissa Rodriguez.  After months of trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of first degree murder on all counts, and on June 24th, 2019, agreed to impose the death penalty for three of the four counts of murder.

A great job by Sean, Britt, Melissa, and the entire law enforcement team that worked on the investigation and prosecution of this case for the better part of a decade.  Justice for the McStay family was achieved in this matter!

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