• Charles Merritt’s DNA Found in McStay Family Car: Search Warrants

    Search warrants in the mysterious McStay family murders case were unsealed Wednesday and, among new revelations, the documents said the DNA of the accused was found in the family’s vehicle abandoned near the U.S.-Mexico border. NBC 7’s Wendy Fry reports. (Published Wednesday, July 1, 2015)

    Search warrants in the mysterious McStay family murders case were unsealed Wednesday and, among new revelations, the documents said the DNA of the accused was found in the family’s vehicle abandoned near the U.S.-Mexico border.

    Charles Merritt – who is facing the death penalty at his trial slated for Aug. 10 – is suspected of killing business partner Joseph McStay, as well as McStay’s wife, Summer, and the couple’s children, 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr. in February 2010.

    The family vanished from their home in Fallbrook, California, north of San Diego County, on Feb. 4, 2010. Four days later, the McStay family’s 1996 Isuzu Trooper was found in a parking lot near the U.S.-Mexico border in San Ysidro.

    The newly-unsealed search warrants in the quadruple-murder case say detectives analyzed the family’s vehicle and collected DNA swabs. When detectives looked at this DNA evidence again in February 2014, criminalists matched the DNA collected from the Trooper to Merritt.

    McStay Killings Pretrial Rescheduled for June

    [DGO] McStay Killings Pretrial Rescheduled for June

    Once again the preliminary hearing for Charles Merritt, the man accused of killing the McStay family of Fallbrook in 2010 was postponed on May 21, 2015, set to pick up next month, if all goes according to plan. NBC 7’s Nicole Gomez reports. (Published Friday, May 22, 2015)

    Merritt’s DNA was found on the steering wheel, the shifter and the radio and A/C control panel.
    The warrants say Merritt’s DNA had been collected in February 2010 while the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (SDSO) was investigating the disappearance of the McStay family as a missing persons case.

    Merritt was interviewed by SDSO investigators during this time and on Feb. 17, 2010, he told investigators he had last been in the Trooper with Joseph McStay six weeks before the family vanished. Merritt claimed he sat in the front seat and had never driven the Trooper.

    The warrants say Merritt “had a fresh injury to his hand” during this interview, which he said was from cutting his hand on sheet metal.

    “Merritt made several statements about Joseph in the past tense, including “Joseph was,” leading investigators to believe Merritt knew Joseph and the family were deceased,” the warrants state.

    McStay Family: We’re Closer to Closure

    [DGO] McStay Family: We're Closer to Closure

    Charles Chase Merritt is accused of bludgeoning to the death Joseph McStay, his wife Summer and their two children, 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr., in 2010. While relatives of the McStays say the arrest brings them closer to closure, family of the defendant say he didn’t do it. NBC 7’s Dave Summers has the latest. (Published Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014)

    In later interviews, Merritt told detectives he did not like Summer McStay. He also told investigators he did not like another business partner he and Joseph had been working with and said, “If I were ever going to commit murder, it would be with him,” referring to harming the other business partner.

    When detectives spoke with this other business partner, he told detectives Joseph had lent Merritt $30,000 to pay a gambling debt and that Joseph planned to fire Merritt.

    The men were partners in Joseph’s business, Earth Inspired Products (EIP), a water fountain design and distribution company. Merritt was hired as a designer and builder of the custom fountains sold by EIP.

    On Nov. 11, 2013 – nearly four years after the family’s disappearance – the skeletal remains of the McStay family were uncovered in shallow graves in a very remote desert location in Victorville, Calif., near Stoddard Wells and Quarry roads.

    The partial skull of one of the children was bleached white due to exposure to the elements, as the remains had been there for an undetermined amount of time. A sledgehammer was found in one of the graves.

    Merritt was arrested in connection with the murders in November 2014. He has pleaded not guilty in the slayings.

    To read the search warrants in full, click here

    The search warrants reveal investigators also spoke with a personal friend of both Joseph and Summer who had been hired to paint the inside of the family’s Fallbrook home.

    This friend had been in the home days prior to the McStay family’s disappearance and was scheduled to finish painting, but could not get a hold of the couple after Feb. 4, 2010.

    The friend told investigators he went to the McStay’s home again on Feb. 17, 2010, with Joseph’s mother, Susan Blake, at her request, because she didn’t want to be alone. This was after the family was reported missing but before the SDSO obtained a search warrant for the residence, according to the documents.

    He noticed Blake was cleaning the house, which “struck [him] as odd because he felt it could destroy evidence,” the search warrants say.

    As he walked through the house the Blake, the friend spotted “three things that struck him as being odd or out of place.”

    This included a missing cover for a futon in the family room area that he specifically remembered had a cover. The second was some dried up paint in one of the paint trays.

    According to the search warrants, the painter had taught Summer how to properly line a paint tray with foil to make clean-up easier because she had complained about cleaning the trays and brushes.

    Finally, the friend noticed clothes strewn all over the floor in the upstairs bedroom. The friend felt this was out of character because Joseph was not a messy person. He knew this because he had been roommates with Joseph in the past, he told investigators, and Joseph would not have left behind that type of mess.

    As revealed during Merritt’s preliminary hearing last month, the search warrants note that the cause of death for the McStay family was blunt force trauma and one of the murder weapons was likely the sledgehammer found at the gravesite in the Southern California desert.

    A detective states in the warrants that murder by blunt force trauma usually generates a large about of blood and leaves blood stains at the crime scene.

    Still, detectives had not been able to locate a crime scene that showed where the family had been killed. SDSO investigators had been treating the case as a missing persons case and “did not process the residence for latent evidence such as blood stains,” the search warrants state.

    SDSO investigators did not believe there were signs of a struggle inside the home.

    However, based on the odd things the family friend reported to investigators, a detective with the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department states in the warrants that there is probable cause to believe the McStay family was murdered inside their Fallbrook home.

    The detective states one of the clues is that the cover missing from the futon was used to wrap Joseph’s body and was found at the desert gravesite. A possible paint stain was found on Summer’s bra at the gravesite, too, that may have dripped onto her as she lay on her side at the crime scene.

    “Based on my training and experience, criminals who commit murder will typically attempt to clean the crime scene,” the detective says in the search warrants.

    “Murder committed by blunt force trauma typically creates a large amount of blood stain splatter and cast off that could be on the ceiling of a room. One of the attempted ways to clean a scene is to paint over the blood stains, though a correct forensic processing of the crime scene would still show the blood stain, the blood stain would not be visible to the naked eye. The blood stain could also be detected by forensic experts years after it was painted over,” the detective adds.

    The McStay home was sold months after the family went missing.

    The warrants say DNA swabs and a piece of tan-colored carpet was taken from the McStay home by San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department investigators in 2014.

    In the unsealed documents, investigators also say Merritt was the last person to see and talk to Joseph alive. Merritt met with Joseph at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., on Feb. 4, 2010.

    Merritt told investigators they met to discuss business dealings. After the meeting, cellphone records show Joseph drove back to his home in Fallbrook.

    Just before 8:30 p.m., Joseph called Merritt and they spoke about a fountain being fabricated for a company overseas. Investigators say phone records show this was the last activity on Joseph’s cellphone.

    Merritt told detectives he had tried to call Joseph several times after the family vanished, but couldn’t reach him. He also said he visited the McStay home in an attempt to find the family on Feb. 9 or Feb. 10, 2010.

    Detectives obtained phone records for Merritt to analyze where he was during the time of the family’s disappearance.

    The warrants said “Merritt was in a position to access the cellular telephone tower northeast of the McStay family gravesite on Feb. 6, 2010 – two days after the family was last seen alive. Merritt made six phone calls in the area between 10:46 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. that day.

    The warrants also say it’s “probable” that there was more than one suspect involved in the murders “since an entire family of four was murdered and transported to the desert.”

    NBC 7 reached out to Merritt’s attorney, Jimmy Mettias, Wednesday for comment on the search warrants. Mettias is traveling out of the country and has not yet responded to NBC 7’s request.

    Source: http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Charles-Merritt-McStay-Family-Murders-Search-Warrants-Unsealed-311271261.html#ixzz3t6sIKYWZ
    Follow us: @nbcsandiego on Twitter | NBCSanDiego on Facebook

     

    After six hours of testimony during a preliminary hearing on Monday, a San Bernardino judge ordered Charles “Chase” Merritt to stand trial for allegedly beating to death a San Diego County family that was missing for more than three years before being found buried in the Mojave Desert.

    The McStay family – Joseph, 40, his wife Summer, 43, and their sons Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3 – were last seen alive on Feb. 4, 2010, before vanishing without a trace from their home. Friends and family were left with countless unanswered questions.

    Now, as prosecutors presented evidence to the judge, some of those questions are finally getting answered.

    At the gravesite where a passing motorcycle rider discovered a human skull in November 2013, detectives testified that McStay’s body was found with a white extension cord wrapped around his neck. Summer’s skull was fractured and a child’s head was bludgeoned seven times, according to testimony. A sledgehammer was also found buried at the site.

    Additionally, detectives testified that DNA matching Merritt was found on the steering wheel of the McStay’s white Isuzu Trooper, which was found abandoned near the Mexico border days following their disappearance.

    Merritt pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder. His lawyer told reportersthat there is not evidence linking Merritt to the murders. Merritt’s family released a statement showing their support.

    “On behalf of the Merritt family, I would like to say that Charles ‘Chase’ Merritt is innocent of the charges against him in the McStay case,” reads the statement. “We are wholeheartedly supporting Chase, and we know that with the hard work and determination put forth by his defense team, he will be back in the arms of his loving family.”

    Meanwhile, Jospeh’s mother Susan Blake, who attended the hearing, continues to grieve.

    “It’s been a really hard time for me,” she told a reporter.

    Merritt will return to the courthouse and be arraigned on June 24 when prosecutors may announce if they plan to seek the death penalty.

     

    Previous Stories:

     


  • Joseph McStay was going to fire his alleged killer over gambling debt, documents say

    Charles Ray Merritt, right, suspect in the McStay family killings, speaks with his attorney Jimmy Mettias in court on June 24 at the San Bernardino Superior Court in San Bernardino. (Micah Escamilla/The Sun)

    A business partner of Joseph McStay told homicide detectives that McStay had lent Charles “Chase” Merritt $30,000 to cover a gambling debt, and was planning to fire Merritt from his custom water fountain business, before the McStay family was last seen alive in 2010, according to search warrants released Wednesday.

    The warrants also revealed that, within two months of Merritt’s Nov. 5 arrest, investigators were looking at the possibility of other suspects being connected with the killings.

    “It is probable there is more than one suspect involved in this investigation since an entire family of four was murdered and transported to the desert,” San Bernardino County sheriff’s Detective Joseph Steers wrote in a Sept. 23 search warrant requesting Merritt’s phone calls be recorded to help identify the people he was in contact with. “It is probable that the identification of Merritt’s associates and the locations of where he frequents would identify any unknown suspects or known involved parties Merritt still associates with.”

    Thirty-three search warrants totaling 305 pages were released Wednesday in the McStay family murder case, which had been sealed since the arrest of suspect Charles "Chase" Merritt in November.
    Thirty-three search warrants totaling 305 pages were released Wednesday in the McStay family murder case, which had been sealed since the arrest of suspect Charles “Chase” Merritt in November.

    San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith released 305 pages of search warrants in perhaps San Bernardino County’s highest-profile murder case. Prosecutors announced Monday they will seek the death penalty against Merritt, 58, of Homeland, who stands accused of using a sledgehammer to fatally bludgeon Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their two sons, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, in their Fallbrook home, in San Diego County, on or around Feb. 4, 2010.

    Much of the information included in the documents was disclosed during Merritt’s June 15 preliminary hearing, which revealed Merritt had dropped thousands of dollars at Indian casinos in San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties in the weeks following the McStay family’s disappearance.

    The warrants provide new information that describe Merritt as a convicted felon with an “extensive criminal record” who has “served multiple prison terms,” and who had racked up more than $50,000 in debt prior to the McStay family’s disappearance, including the $30,000 he owed Joseph McStay for gambling debts and $20,120.80 he owed the IRS for unpaid taxes.

    Merritt had also disconnected his cell phone number shortly after the McStay family went missing, which further aroused suspicion with homicide investigators, according to the warrants.

    Prior to and after the McStay family disappeared, Merritt had written checks totaling more than $15,000 on Joseph McStay’s Quickbooks software accounting program. Some of the checks were written after the McStay’s disappearance on Feb. 4, 2010, and those electronic checks were backdated to Feb. 4, according to search warrants and testimony from the preliminary hearing.

    Merritt told San Diego County sheriff’s detective Troy Dugal during a July 7, 2011 interview that Joseph McStay had given him permission to access and use his Quickbooks accounting software program and had been in possession of six blank checks prior to Joseph McStay’s disappearance. Merritt said he used the checks to pay bills and to pay himself for jobs completed, according to search warrants.

    Merritt admitted to Dugal he signed Joseph McStay’s name on three of the checks, and claimed the other three checks he had written already had Joseph McStay’s signature on them.

    “There is no evidence, other than Merritt’s statement, to suggest Merritt had permission to use Joseph’s Quickbooks accounting software to write checks,” Detective Ryan Smith wrote in a search warrant affidavit. “Merritt is not an authorized signer on the account.”

    Merritt allegedly forged and cashed multiple computer generated checks from Joseph McStay’s business account after the family was killed, and investigators determined 76 blank checks were still missing – believed to have been taken by Merritt, according to the search warrants.

    Investigators in San Diego County zeroed in on Merritt as a suspect in the case when the investigation was initially launched in February 2010 as a missing persons case.

    Merritt was the last person to see Joseph McStay alive on Feb. 4, 2010, when the two met at a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga, where Merritt lived at the time, to discuss business. McStay called Merritt later the same day to follow up and discuss designing a water fountain for a company in Saudi Arabia, according to the search warrants.

    Merritt designed and built custom water fountains for McStay’s Internet company, Earth Inspired Products.

    DNA collected from the steering wheel, gear shift handle and radio control panel of the McStay family’s Isuzu Trooper, found abandoned at the Mexican border in San Ysidro on Feb. 8, 2010, matched Merritt’s DNA.

    Merritt told San Diego County sheriff’s detectives during a Feb. 17, 2010 interview he had last ridden, as a passenger, in the McStay’s Isuzu Trooper about six weeks prior to the family’s disappearance, but he had never driven it. He had also referred to Joseph McStay in the past tense during the interview, leading investigators to believe he knew Joseph McStay and his family were dead, according to the search warrants.

    Merritt also told San Diego County sheriff’s investigators he did not like either Summer McStay nor Dan Kavanaugh, Joseph McStay’s business partner who managed the company’s website. Merritt, referring to Kavanaugh, told investigators, “If I were ever going to commit murder, it would be with him,’ according to the warrants.

    At the time Merritt made the statement, there was no evidence of foul play in the McStay family disappearance that would justify such a statement, according to the warrants.

    Investigators also noticed during the interview that Merritt had a fresh injury to his hand, which he claimed happened when he cut his hand on sheet metal.

    Merritt also had a sister living near Victorville at the time the family disappeared, which is also where the family’s skeletal remains were discovered. He was the only person connected to the case that had knowledge of the High Desert in San Bernardino County, according to the warrants.

    Merritt formerly lived in Apple Valley in late 2012 to early 2013, according to property records.

    A friend of the family, McGyver McCargar, was hired by the McStay’s to paint their home. He went to the home on Feb. 17, 2010, 13 days after the family was last seen, and noticed a few things that struck him as odd: dried paint in a paint tray, which he found unusual because he had instructed Summer McStay on lining the tray with foil to make cleanup easier.

    McCargar told investigators Summer McStay had complained to him about having to clean trays and brushes after painting, according to the search warrants.

    Another thing that struck McCargar as odd was a cover missing from a futon, which matched one Joseph McStay was found wrapped in at the grave sites. The third thing McCarger found unusual was clothes strewn all over the floor in the upstairs bedroom, which was out of the ordinary for Joseph McStay, who was fairly tidy, according to the search warrants.

    Summer McStay was wearing only a bra, sweatpants and panties when her skeletal remains were found in one of two shallow graves. A horizontal paint stain was found on her bra, consistent with her lying on her side and the paint dripping onto the bra from above, according to the search warrants and testimony from the preliminary hearing.

    It led investigators to believe the McStay family was killed in their home, and their killer painted over blood spatter evidence.

    “One of the attempted ways to clean a scene is to paint over the blood stains, though a correct forensic processing of the crime scene would still show the blood stain, the blood stain would not be visible to the naked eye,” San Bernardino County sheriff’s detective Joseph Steers said in his sworn affidavit included in one of the search warrants. “The blood stain could still be detected by forensics experts years after it was painted over.”

    During Merritt’s preliminary hearing, no evidence was presented to show blood matching the McStay family’s was found at the home during the course of the San Bernardino County sheriff’s homicide investigation, and Merritt’s attorneys have maintained there was no physical evidence found at the home to indicate the killings occurred there.

    Merritt’s attorney, Jimmy Mettias, was out of the country and unavailable for comment Wednesday. Co-counsel Jim Terrell could not immediately be reached for comment.

    Detective Steers noted in one of his warrants that Merritt told him he was writing a book about the McStay family case, and that he would bring his notes to his interviews with investigators to direct the interview on subjects he wanted to talk about, and even told investigators he wanted to bring a copy of the book to his interviews. Merritt told investigators he had written seven chapters and then stopped.

    “A search of Merritt’s residence for any handwritten notes concerning the book would reveal if Merritt was remembering the events from memory or fabricating items to cover his involvement in these murders,” Steers wrote in his affidavit requesting a search of the Covina residence of Merritt’s girlfriend, Catherine Jarvis, who was living with Merritt at the time the McStay family was killed.

    On Oct. 21, investigators served a search warrant at Merritt’s residence on Butterfly Palm Drive, in Homeland, where they seized notes from the McStay homicide investigation and “several quotes to do with remorse, forgiveness and murder.”

    Investigators also believe Merritt may have been using his heart condition as a ruse to sway them from considering him as a viable suspect. Though Merritt had told investigators he had heart problems and had stints place in his heart, home video footage of Merritt showed him jumping over a fence and climbing a mountain next to the McStay home, leading investigators to believe Merritt was in relatively healthy condition, and that his previous comments about his heart were exaggerated.

    Merritt’s attorneys said Merritt suffers from congestive heart failure, and the reason he was so anxious to get the case to trial was because he feared he would die before getting a chance to prove his innocence.

     


  • N.H. fireworks shops seeing plenty of customers from Mass.

    Fireworks are illegal in Massachusetts, but not in our northern neighbor

    HINSDALE, N.H. (WWLP) – Fireworks are illegal in Massachusetts, but that doesn’t mean everybody follows the law. Many Massachusetts residents make the short trip over the state line to buy fireworks in New Hampshire.

    In Hinsdale, New Hampshire- just miles from the Massachusetts and Vermont state lines- this week is called “Christmas in July.” Workers at Phantom Fireworks told 22News that the store makes more money during this one week, than at any other time throughout the year.

    From the moment 22News arrived at the fireworks store, it was clear that people came from all over. The parking lot was filled with license plates from New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts. Fireworks may be illegal in the Bay State, but many people think they’re as American as apple pie; a patriotic symbol of American freedom.

    22News found some Hampshire County residents at the store, and asked them if they would admit to bringing the fireworks back to Massachusetts.

    “I live my life legally when I can, but there are certain laws I don’t agree with, and so I chose to live outside the law, I guess,” Elijah Harrington of Amherst said.

    Sam Rosenbach of Northampton, however, said that he didn’t have any thoughts of bringing the fireworks back into Massachusetts.

    Jack Abell, Director of Development for Phantom Fireworks, says that it’s not up to them where people choose to use the fireworks.

    “We sell what is legal in the state of New Hampshire. We don’t know where people are going. If they have a Massachusetts license plate, they could be going up to Maine or into Vermont, or they could be vacationing in New Hampshire,” Abell said.

    A few years ago, former State Rep. Richard Bastien proposed a bill that would have made fireworks legal in Massachusetts, but the proposal has been stalled in committee.