6 days

“The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”
― Oscar Wilde

Evidence presented at trial absolutely related a very different narrative than that presented at prelim.  And a very different set of circumstances than the DA promised in opening statements.

So, what transpired in those final days of the McStay’s lives?  Sunday January 31 thru Friday February 5?  According to witnesses at trial, the following is an accurate depiction of what occurred:

Day 6

January 31, 2010 (Sunday): 

Chase Merritt is at the Mcstay residence fixing an appliance. Pizza is ordered. Chase and Summer argue over his eating his pizza with his hands. Summer wants her children to eat with cutlery.  At some point McCarger McGyver arrives to help with the painting of the interior of the home (the hired painter left for Las Vegas and didn’t return; workers are scheduled to be at the home on Thursday to put in the new flooring.  There is an urgency for Summer to get the painting done before the 4th.) Chase leaves. McGyver, finding it difficult to paint with toddlers underfoot, suggests that the family go to the park. The McStay family takes his suggestion. McGyver paints the entryway at the front of the house. When the McStays return they are in better spirits.  Joseph McStay mentions a nearby micro-brewery he’d like to go to with McGyver, but it is too late that Sunday to do this then. Joseph and Chase speak in the afternoon, apparently after Chase has left and before the family goes to the park.

Day 5

February 1, 2010 (Monday): 

Chase Merritt pings towers consistent with his being at home.  McGyver does not return to the McStay residence this day-he originally was going to help paint, but had forgotten that the mother of his unborn child was going in for an ultrasound that day.  This Monday Joseph McStay sends an email to Chase Merritt updating him on finances. Joseph lists payments Chase will receive on two major on-going projects. Also mentioned in this email are money Chase owes Joseph projects that EIP sued in order to receive payment from the clients. Chase had apparently been paid for his work before EIP received payment. And if the lawsuits were to fail, it appears Joseph expected Chase to pay monies paid to him. Both these projects were from years before, one dating back as far as 2007.  And it is never clarified at trial where the lawsuits around these projects stood.  This Monday Joseph McStay’s Intuit Quickbooks account is accessed.  A check that is never printed or cashed is written to Chase Merritt on an account not previously used for check payment before. It should be noted though that in December 2009 and January 2010 Joseph was making a number of adjustments to his Quickbooks.  One of which was to, for the very first time, make payments unrelated to Chase by way of this program. Prior to December 2009 Joseph had handwritten checks, entering those amounts manually to the program. Other than these two events Monday the 1st appears to have been uneventful.  Chase and Joseph do speak on the phone all day, off and on, until almost 11PM.

The Email

Day 4

February 2, 2010 (Tuesday): 

Chase Merritt is at the McStay residence in the morning and departs at around 10 AM.

2 2 morning 8 43 Merritt heaind to Fallbrook

2 2 at joseph's home Merritt

McGyver has also shown up early to paint. Summer runs errands while Joseph and McGyver paint, but as it turns out they have used the wrong paint.  Chase Merritt returns home near to 11:30 AM.  He accesses the Joseph McStay’s Quickbooks “Custom” account (it should be noted there were two sides to McStay’s Quickbooks: 1 for Joseph’s personal finances and EIP in general/ 2 strictly for monitoring the custom work Joseph did primarily with Chase “Custom”) Chase writes a check for payment due on a project. This amount is in keeping with what he was owed. It is clear that just as Joseph had only recently begun writing computer generated checks for his personal accounts, checks written to Chase would also now be computer generated.  Why Joseph wanted Chase to generate his own checks is not clear. Some speculate it was because Joseph had found that his Quickbooks was being hacked into by his ex-business partner Dan Kavanaugh and that Joseph was trying to find ways for his payments to Chase to be confidential (payments to vendors were on percentage); I’ve speculated that Joseph instructed Chase to draft his own checks, on an as-needed basis so that Chase and Joseph, anticipating a busy year, wouldn’t have to make so many trips back and forth, solely for payment to be made.  That week Chase had already been to the McStay residence at least twice-Joseph once.  It was an hour each way in good traffic. As the work increased, this travel may have been time prohibitive. And Chase was paid only after the client’s fees were received, so payments were made based on the client’s schedule of payment. Chase also has a handwritten check he received from Joseph that day.  The computer generated check is cashed. The handwritten check for $200 is used to open a new account at Bank of America.  We can’t know for certain why Joseph would have handled his accounts this way, but in looking at final bank statements there appears to be a pattern. Checks appear to have been allocated by serial number. I’m guessing this made reconciling different accounts easier, as Joseph did not appear to do reconcile daily, but may have waited for at least a week.  Joseph vanishes before the weekend of that first week in February. There is no record of him reconciling his books before his death, so very likely this was a once a week or once every two week endeavor. Maybe he did this only once a month… It is also evident that he divvied up payments. It was not unusual to see two checks written to the same vendor on the same day, in different amounts.  Again, if the checks were for different projects, using checks with different serial numbers would make for visual accounting. It would make it easier to see on the bank statement what each payment had been for.

Joseph Checking account statement

The laborers scheduled to install the floors cancelled due to rain. This takes some of the pressure off Summer to get the interior of the home painted by that date.

Day 3

February 3, 2010 (Wednesday): 

Not much activity this day. No checks written on the QuickBooks account. Joseph McStay and a friend attempted to help paint the interior of the home, but used the wrong color. Run out to get more paint. 

Day 2

February 4, 2010 (Thursday): 

Joseph calls his father that morning. Summer speaks to friends. By noon Joseph is on the road to Rancho Cucamonga for a lunch meeting with Chase. Though there are no receipts to prove they had lunch all phone activity suggests they did meet, turning off their phones for a period of time, then turning them back on. There is zero evidence that the shared storage unit was ventured to by either man. There is also zero evidence that Joseph McStay is killed at this time. What exactly transpires at this lunch is uncertain, except that according to Chase, Joseph gives him blank, signed checks that Joseph has instructed Chase to fill in as needed. Although, the DA claims this didn’t happen and that Chase stole these checks, there is no proof Chase stole anything. This is pure conjecture on the part of the prosecution. Though the DA then also claims the check writing that occurs later is activity somehow indicative of theft, again absent proof, which is never produced at trial, there is no reason not to believe Chase–especially as all checks written are in the amount owed Chase. Every action conducted by Joseph McStay after that lunch meeting is consistent with what Chase claims occurred. There is literally no reason not to believe him. After lunch Joseph is documented traveling back to Fallbrook by way of his phone connections to towers, some of this activity being phone calls with Chase. Joseph arrives home in the early afternoon and gets onto his computer pulling a up a program that allows him to draw fountain ideas with precise dimensions-Sketch-Up. After viewing this program he again phones Chase. This will be their last phone call. Later that night Joseph drafts a check, but does not print it. He aligns his printer and attempts to call Chase, but gets no answer. What Joseph does not do is to call his bank and put a hold on any account, or phone QuickBooks to alter a password. He does not contact another welder to finish ongoing projects. Joseph does not call a friend and tell them he had to fire Chase. Joseph’s evening would appear by way of his digital footprint to be wholly unremarkable.

Chase is at home in Rancho Cucamonga with his family that evening, both in his apartment and the activity room that has a small movie theater. As is usual for Chase’s phone, there is intermittent connections with towers. Though this is made to be suspicious, it is clear from his phone logs that his phone connections to towers are often irregular and that he is usually off of his phone by 9 at night. Nothing extraordinary occurred. And as I will mention later, radio waves do not conform to a Kevin Boles overly basic analysis. It is totally possible to connect to a tower that is far from where an individual actually is. Especially in 2010 when there were fewer towers, so these towers were designed to have a much farther reach. The prosecution never proved that Chase ever left his home. Chase has witnesses who from day one have placed him there.

Day 1

February 5, 2010 (Friday): 

Friday morning Chase is documented driving various places, but he is no where near Fallbrook. What the McStay family was doing this day can only be speculated on, but it is very likely that their lives were fairly routine and ordinary during the first part of that morning. Something happened though. And whatever it was it would appear that the family was taken from the home alive. 

In the afternoon of Friday, Chase will write checks to himself on Joseph’s QuickBooks account. All checks are in keeping with amounts due to him for various projects.

What is striking about this last week of the McStay’s known whereabouts is how unremarkable it was. There was no major event that stood out. From the beginning of the week to the end Chase Merritt’s interactions with Joseph McStay are consistent with a good working relationship. Consistent with Joseph’s text to Chase at the very start of the year.

Joseph New Years text to ChasePM

The two are clearly working out a new method of payment for Chase. Though some might speculate that giving anyone a signed, blank check might be risky, what would have been more risky is for Chase to have done anything but write checks for the amount he was owed. He was scheduled to make a great deal of money with Joseph that year.

The two had longterm ongoing projects they were working on. And Joseph was constantly checking his bank statements for payments coming in-he had to, in order to initiate work on a project. Chase had a home and family that would make it difficult and unlikely for him to write an unauthorized check and attempt to abscond with Joseph’s money, suddenly disappearing. Joseph had been given no reason to worry that Chase do anything but write checks in accordance with what was owed. And that’s exactly what Chase did. ALL the checks written by Chase by way of this new method were completely in keeping with what was owed to him. And in keeping with how Joseph would normally pay him: Once the money came in from the client, payment to vendors would be made.

Chase learning to use QuickBooks that week for the first time was likely a fluke and unrelated to what happens to the McStays. Joseph had been tinkering with the QuickBooks since the year before. It’s hard to know exactly what or why he was doing this, but his bookkeeping methods were unconventional and tailored to his own methods. That’s why people like to work for themselves-so they can do the job the way that suits them.  And Joseph McStay lived his life, very much, on his own terms.

A quote often repeated by law enforcement and crime related programs is that we are most likely to be killed by someone we know. Not true. FBI statistics contradict this. In fact, what is actually true is that your murder is most likely to be solved if the killer is familiar to you. And by “familiar”, most of these types of killings are acquaintance killings-not those of people who are on close terms. Almost 40% of murders go unsolved, which means that of those murders solved we don’t know what the relationship is between killer and victim. And many wrongful convictions appear to an origin in this fallacy. Michael Morton and Kevin Green were wrongfully convicted of the murder and brutal assault of their wives, when in fact the crimes had been committed by complete strangers, who went on to kill again.

It is possible that what happened to the McStays had nothing to do with anything they were doing that week. It may be that this crime, like so many, came down to the fatal mistake of opening the front door to the wrong person.

And a bunch of hot nonsense around Chase’s phone pings on February 6:

It is well documented by way of case law that all cellular ping data can do is to place a person in a general vicinity. And that’s all Chase’s ping data does. It places him in a vicinity completely consistent with him visiting his brother and sister. Things the state’s expert witness failed to mention is that sectors can overlap, os a sector that might appear to place a person in a given position to a tower, may not accurately do this. And there is the ridiculous innuendo that misleading evidence can create.  Though one could argue that Chase could also have been at the grave site–my question would be, then why was his connection so bad? The 911 caller, who phoned in the finding of the McStay’s graves made his call from the grave site. There is a recording. Not only was this caller on the phone to two agencies, he was placed on hold. No interruptions to service. That location at the graves should have been a the best place in the area to make a call–so why, if Chase was there, did his call drop every single time he tried to dial out?

February 8:

Chase visits the warehouse where he assembles the fountains he is commissioned by Joseph to complete and package. He chats with the secretary until 11am or noon in Anza. There is no time for him to make an impromptu journey to the San Ysidro Border, before he returns home and writes the last checks he will on that account. Again, all these checks are in keeping with money owed him.

February 9:

Chase will go in person to the McStay residence to check on the family. He sees dog food in the bowl and the dogs outside. Nothing looks amiss.

Everything else that the state produced at trial is purely speculative. Prosecutors support none of their assertions with actual evidence. And what evidence they thought they had at prelim is contradicted or proven wrong at trial.

And there is an innocent man on death row while the monsters who did this remain free or at the very least are not held accountable for this savagery


In conclusion:

This mystery isn’t even close to being solved.

It is basically impossible that Charles “Chase” Merritt killed this family.

No motive. No real opportunity. And not one piece of reliable evidence that ties Merritt to any element of this multi-pronged crime.