Consistent but not Conclusive

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” 

― Isaac Asimov

 

As we near some kind of reliable trial date for People v. Merritt the question is, what will the evidence prove when placed under the scrutiny of a robust defense?  And all indications are that Merritt defense attorneys, Rajan Maline and James McGee are ramping up for a very thorough and comprehensive defense.

The state’s case against Merritt has a fair amount of physical and digital evidence, the problem is that most of it is inconclusive.

  1. There is a vehicle caught by the surveillance camera of a McStay neighbor on the night the McStays are believed to be murdered.  Though only the bottom eighteen inches of the vehicle is viewable, this portion of the vehicle is consistent with the Chevy truck driven by Merritt at the time of the McStays were killed.
  2. There are two sets of tire tracks leading to the two shallow graves in which the McStays were found. One set of these tracks is consistent in width, with the vehicle Merritt was known to have driven at the time of the murders.
  3. There is Chase Merritt’s DNA found in minor and trace amounts on the steering wheel, gear shift and air controls in the McStay Trooper.
  4. There are phone pings that place Merritt in physical locations at specific times, most notably placing him within an 8 mile, or greater radius of the McStay graves on the Saturday following the murders.
  5. And there is a whole lot of strange and suspicious activity on Joseph McStay’s Quickbook account, right at the time of the murders, all linked directly to Chase Merritt.

 

That’s a lot of evidence!  But how much of this evidence is conclusive?

 

To date:

  1. There has been no actual identification made of the vehicle captured leaving the McStay driveway on the night of their murders.
  2. The tire tracks leading to the graves were eroded, to such a degree, it’s hard to imagine an exact match could be made to any vehicle, let alone Merritt’s.  (There have to be thousands of trucks that might have left tracks that same width, this in a part of California, where almost everyone owns a truck.)  Add to this, the two sets of tracks are of different widths.  Indicating that more than one vehicle was present.
  3. Merritt’s DNA is found in minor and trace amounts in the McStay Trooper, (Joseph McStay was found to be a major contributor in a mixed sample).  The defense has already indicated that they believe Merritt’s DNA was transferred to these locations by way of contact between Merritt and McStay.  So though the DNA is certain, its meaning is not.
  4. The phone ping data collected on Merritt seems the most wobbly of all the evidence, even though it should be the most solid.  There are a myriad of explanations for many of the locations in which Merritt’s phone pings various towers. And though on first blush his pings near the graves two days following the murders, appears very damning, we don’t really know yet how far a reach the towers had, or if there might not be a very innocent explanation for Merritt to have pinged those towers.  Merritt has never adequately explained why he might have been in that region, on that day-so there’s that on the prosecution’s side of things.  But on the other hand, if Merritt waited two days to bury the bodies, where were the bodies for those two days?  And why would he wait? The timing of those pings raises as many questions, as it answers.
  5. The suspicious Quickbooks activity does seem conclusive, in that it can be linked to Merritt, and no one but Merritt.  But what does that activity actually prove?  Neither the state or the defense has really offered much explanation on this.  So again, inconclusive.

 

Everyone on this case, prosecution and defense both, have lots of explaining to do at trial.  And it looks like in 2018 we will finally hear both sides, in full.

Until then, open minds make the sturdiest vessels for truth.

Let the evidence lead the way.

72 Comments

  1. I just noticed something in the preliminary hearing that hadn’t caught my attention before, in regard to the tire tracks at the graves. DA Daugherty begins to explore the idea that if tracks are made in the rain, that might cause the impressions to spread, thereby explaining how one vehicle might leave two different width (or the proper term is stance) measurements. But what Daugherty is also doing by way of this speculation is putting the track stance readings themselves into question.

    Basically he’s debunking his own narrative.

    Pg 145

    Q Have you ever stepped in a mud puddle?
    A I have.
    Q What happens to your footprint when you step in loose mud?
    A It spreads out from where your initial shoe print would be.

    1. Below is the reasons given by Judge Michael Smith to hold Merritt to answer to the charges of murder (pg 153):

      “A few of the key points of the evidence that leads the Court to that conclusion are-

      No. 1. The evidence clearly indicates that the victims of the homicide, the McStay family, disappeared on February the 4th, 2010.

      The evidence indicates that the defendant met with Mr. McStay that afternoon, or around noontime.

      The defendant reported that he received checks from Mr. McStay at that time.

      The other evidence indicates that the checks that the defendant — that were subsequently deposited into the defendant’s account were actually made on the victim’s account after February the 4th, and backdated to February the 4th. Which is a strong inference that the defendant was involved in the disappearance and the ultimate death of the victims.

      Further, the victims’, the McStay vehicle, the Isuzu Trooper, was apparently taken from their residence, left at San
      Ysidro, and the DNA evidence suggests that the — not suggests — the defendant’s DNA was found on — both on the steering wheel and on the gearshift lever of that vehicle, indicating that the defendant had driven or at least handled the steering wheel and gearshift at some time.

      Other circumstances, when the defendant was interviewed shortly after the defendant — after the victims’ disappearance,he referred to the victims in the past tense. And this, of course, was long before anyone knew that they were deceased. And when you combine that information with the fact that two days after the disappearance, the defendant’s cell phone is pinging off of the cell phone tower in the immediate vicinity of where the victims were buried, all creates a strong inference and strong conclusion that there’s probable cause to believe that the defendant was a participant in the homicide of the victims.

      And finally, of course, is the fact that the tire tracks, at least one set of the tire tracks at the scene where the victims were buried matches, or at least is consistent with the wheel base of the tires on the defendant’s vehicle that he was driving at the time. So, a conclusion of all of that evidence creates a strong inference, and definitely supports, at a minimum, a probable cause determination that the defendant was a participant in the homicide.

      The Court, therefore, will grant the motion to hold the defendant to answer for those offenses.

      1. 1) If you knock out the DNA evidence (which the defense is clearly ready to debunk); 2) the scientifically-iffy and inconclusive tire track evidence (which Judge Smith is a little off on, because the manner of measurement indicated at prelim was not a wheelbase measurement, but a method by which one measures the outer lines of each side of the tracks-minus the tread width); 3) and that Merritt misspoke using past tense rather than present tense–

        All you are left with is the backdating of the checks and the phone pings near to the graves a full two days after the family goes missing.

        1. I swear this case is my grassy-knolls obsession. I really hope the trial happens soon.

        2. All you are left with is the backdating of the checks and the phone pings near to the graves a full two days after the family goes missing.–this is still pretty daming evidence? Even if that’s all they got.

  2. Gravitas,

    There is a problem with your theory that the 7:59 check was written somewhere other than the McStay home.

    1. Sleuth, I know.

      We discussed this at length on another post.

      If Merritt is writing a check, from his own home for example, why doesn’t he just make this claim and get out of jail?

      It is a law of physics that an object cannot be in two different places at the same time. If Merritt was someplace other than the McStay home writing that check he couldn’t have been at the McStay residence at 7:59 PM-and given it takes at least an hour for him to get to the McStays, he also could not have been at their home at 7:47 PM.

      The computer he was using to write the check would show this. Or the air card, he would presumably have been using, should have this data stored, unless the information isn’t held by AT&T (wow, maybe that was what the AT&T subpoenas were about-getting proof that Merritt was home at 7:59–but that’s a stretch.)

      And even if Merritt has lost the computer he used, somehow, this is still a claim he could make. If it was true, this would destroy the state’s case against him. It’s the perfect alibi.

      So why not own it?

      The check writing on QB is peculiar. Both in the State’s presentation and Merritt’s lack of comment.

      Weird.

          1. But he’s made up of atoms, so……

            OMG. We’re going off the deep end here.

            There is more to the QB check writing than either the state or Merritt have discussed publicly. We definitely do not have the whole story here.

            And then, of course, there is the other possibility, that Joseph McStay wrote the 7:59PM check. McStay logged onto QB on Feb. 2 when the first check was written and printed, so maybe McStay was teaching Merritt how to write checks-for some reason.

            This is going to be an interesting trial, I think. So many questions remain unanswered at this time.

            1. If Chase is innocent, the most logical explanation for the check written in the home on the night of the murders is that Joey wrote it. Was that check cashed by Chase?

              1. I agree. That is the most likely explanation.

                The check written on Feb 4, at 7:59 was never printed.

                The state’s version of events for that night is a bit of a cluster#@$.

                They’ve got Merritt, (who has a heart condition where he cannot easily withstand sudden extreme exertion), hanging up the phone with Joseph McStay at 5:48 and immediately driving to the McStay home. Presumably like a bat out of hell, as 5:48 at night on a Thursday is rush hour.

                Then Merritt gets to the McStays, bludgeons everyone to death (rapes Summer–and then what was he doing with the extension cord around Joseph’s neck?).

                Then Merritt, who has to be covered in blood, somehow gathers all four victims who are also covered in blood, and carries them out to his truck, leaving zero blood behind–even though the McStay residence is basically wall to wall beige carpeting.

                Then Merritt drives away at 7:47, only to return to the McStay home 12 minutes later to write a check he doesn’t print.

                Are you effing kidding me with this?

                Come on trial. Somebody needs to sort this mess out.

      1. Wouldn’t Chase’s girlfriend have seen Chase writing that check? She was his alibi.

        1. Anonymous 1:32,

          Yes. Good point. The live-in girlfriend was his alibi for that night. And apparently she called his number five times between 5:48 PM and 9:32 PM on the 4th, when Merritt had told authorities that he was home watching a movie with her (and these were calls that did not ping and were indicators that Merritt’s phone was either off, or in airport mode or out of reach of cell towers as in, this was the time period where Merritt’s phone went dead.)

          Here’s the thing, though. The timeline for Merritt on the 4th is a little confusing, as it is never really cemented at prelim or in any of the warrants.

          Per a phone log of Joseph McStays that was published when the family went missing, the only “dead” period on Joseph’s log during the day, where Merritt and McStay are not talking to one another, is between 1PM and 3PM.

          So maybe we can assume this is approximately when the in-person meeting at Chick fil a occurred.

          Merritt states in interviews with LE that he went home after that meeting, which would place him at home at around 3:30 (he lived in Rancho Cucamonga where the two met at the Chick fil a-so he didn’t have far to go.)

          If he’s home early and his girlfriend isn’t working afternoons, they might have watched a movie soon after. It got dark early at that time of year, around 5:30 PM. So the 5:48 PM call from Joseph, which Merritt absolutely did pick up, might be the call that Merritt had confused with the 8:28 PM call when he first tells LE that he did, in fact, speak to Joseph that night.

          Now why Merritt never told LE that he did go out later that night is suspicious. Obviously if his phone is pinging near Mira Loma at 9:32 PM, and five of the calls to the phone are from his live-in girlfriend, so he wasn’t with her then (unless someone else, like his daughter, had his phone somehow). And Mira Loma is about 20 minutes from Merritt’s home in Rancho.

          If Merritt is innocent, then there are only three explanations that I can conjure for the discrepancies.

          1) Merritt was on probation at that time, if he’d gone out to gamble that night-which would be consistent with where he pinged, he may have been afraid that this might adversely impact his probation status, even though it does not appear that gambling was restricted–but perhaps there was a fear that it might be seen as a problem. And Merritt had missed court dates around that time, so perhaps the lie, though unnecessary, was triggered by this.

          2) Merritt was doing something else he shouldn’t have been doing to make money.

          3) Merritt was having an affair, and he and his girlfriend decided to lie rather than muddy the waters with this.

          Merritt gives LE the alibi right after the McStays disappear. At that time there might have been reasons for him to lie that had nothing to do with the murders.

          Or, he was involved directly in the murders.

        2. I follow a lot of wrongful convictions, and something that I’ve seen quite a few times in these cases is that the defendants will lie about a lessor crime they did commit, not realizing that it is this lie that then implicates them in the murder they did not commit. LE is used to being lied to all the time. And a blatant lie immediately sends up red flags. But a man innocent of murder, may not realize the predicament he is placing himself in. Reed didn’t want to go down for a drug deal, but his lie about his drug dealing was part of what got him convicted for a murder, he more than likely did not commit.

          Rodney Reed’s lie put him square in the cross hairs of investigators, even though they had no forensic evidence to tie him to the murder he is currently on death row for.

  3. For anyone who wonders why I might have questions about the computer forensic examinations performed by the state on the McStay case, please take a quick look at the case against Samuel Clauder, who was framed by his son and wife for allegedly downloading pornography-in San Bernardino County. Clauder was later fully exonerated.

    http://inlandpolitics.com/blog/2012/12/08/the-sun-san-bernardino-political-activist-vindicated-on-child-porn-charge-record-ordered-destroyed/

    “…Stancher (Clauder’s son) had told his mother in the spring of 2008 that he had found the illegal images on his father’s computer, and his mother reported it to the Sheriff’s Department, spurring an investigation and the criminal charges…”

    Clauder was forced to spend $20,000 of his own money to clear his name. But why didn’t investigators examine Clauder’s computer more carefully before charging him?

    “…Sheryl Katz, a computer forensics expert from the El Segundo-based Elluma Discovery, whom Clauder hired to examine his computer hard drive at a cost of $20,000, concluded that the illegal pornographic images found on Clauder’s computer came from peer-to-peer networking software used on Stancher’s account…”

    As it happens some of the same players involved in the Clauder case are also involved the Merritt’s defense. Attorney Rajan Maline defended Clauder, and he hired Elluma Discovery to perform the computer forensics that exonerated Clauder.

  4. Maybe Chase also didn’t log out of the quickbook program. Can two users be logged in at the same time?

    1. This is the manual for Quickbooks 2010: http://www.nappyshoppe.net/Oreilly.QuickBooks.2010.The.Missing.Manual.Oct.2009.pdf

      And it gives you an idea of how the program was set up back then. It may be different now. But in 2010 the way QB wanted owners to use the program, is that if there was to be more than one user the owner of the program needed to buy QB for each additional user.

      Each user would be given a separate password as well.

      But this was expensive. To get additional software packages for each user, was, I think about $600.00 (I looked this up a long time ago, so I could be off on the exact amount).

      So if Joseph wanted Merritt to be a user on the “CUSTOM” account it was cheaper to simply give Merritt access by way of Joseph’s password to that account.(Joseph had two QB accounts; one was for his own personal and business finances-CONTACT. The other CUSTOM tracked business with Merritt and only Merritt-from what was explained at prelim) And there was little risk for Joseph in giving Merritt the password, because Joseph did have a separate password for his CONTACT account. With the password Merritt would have been given for CUSTOM, Merritt would not have had access to Josephs personal finance.

      I don’t know that Joseph did this, but given the nature of the CUSTOM account, this makes the most sense.

      Merritt does not appear to have ever accessed the CONTACT account.

      What the 2010 manual does not tell you, though, is what happens when two people accessing QB with the exact same password log on at the same time. Can 2010 QBs even operate this way?

      I could find no info on this, probably because no one was supposed to use QBs that way.

      It seems possible that if Merritt never logged out from whatever computer he was using, he would be able to access the program each time without a log-in registering with QB.

      So on February 4, 2010 it does seem possible that both Joseph and Merritt were logged in, and at 7:59 PM Merritt simply wrote a check from a computer that was already logged in-so the log in doesn’t get recorded. All that LE knows is that the one computer they have in their possession was logged into QB, so they assumed the transaction was made from that computer.

      What LE does not seem to have is the computer Merritt used when he wrote the checks. No mention of this is made at prelim, and as late as October 2014, per search warrants, LE seems to still be trying to figure out what computer Merritt used for this.

      It’s one of the oddities of this case-if Merritt admits to writing the checks, why is there such a mystery around what computer or device he used to access the program with?

        1. For me this is about learning. I’m not going to solve this crime. But we’ve been given an extraordinary opportunity to examine a case of this magnitude, pre-trial.

  5. I thought of another analogy.

    The computer harddrive is like an address book, storing addresses of everywhere a user goes online or off.

    The harddrive tells you is that a user went to Facebook, opened a Word document or went to Quick Books.

    But if you want to know what is at those addresses, you have to travel to them. So you would have to actually get into the Facebook account, open Word or go to Quick Books to know what the user did when they were there.

    On 2/4/10 Joey M went to Quick Books. His hard drive has that address on its history. But the hard drive can’t tell you what the Quick Books activity was. Only a trip to Quick Books can tell you that.

    1. Exactly. So on the 4th Joseph McStay signs onto QB at around noon from his desktop computer. He doesn’t log out. That’s really all the hard drive can tell us.

      So there are three basic possibilities regarding the QB activity on the CUSTOM account, the night of the 4th:

      1) Joseph, long after his meeting with Merritt, got on his computer and went back to QB. He didn’t need to log in again because he’d never logged out, and wrote the Paul Mitchell check at 7:59 PM.
      2) Merritt goes onto Joseph’s computer, gets on QB, doesn’t log in, because Joseph never logged out. And Merritt wrote that check, allegedly after murdering the family and driving off with them, and returning to the home.
      3) No one accessed QB from Joseph’s desktop that night. Someone from a computer outside the home visited QB on-line. Entered the proper email and password, got into the CUSTOM account, and wrote the check. This action would not be recorded on Joseph McStay’s hard drive, because it’s a “virtual” entry to hard drives owned by QB/Intuit. (It seems possible that because JM never logged out of QB, investigators assumed that the transaction was made from the desktop).

      If QBs didn’t maintain a record of this log-in, due to their data-retention-policies, then no matter who is analyzing the software or the hardware, it’s probably not knowable that a virtual log-in occurred.

  6. Cornelius,

    I will fully own not being great at explaining this, however there is a major difference between a QB “account” and a “vendor” listed in that account.

    A QB account tracks expenditures, outgoing checks, incoming monies (Def ACCOUNT: “a record or statement of financial expenditure or receipts relating to a particular period or purpose.”).

    A vendor is a person or business who gets paid in some manner from the monies being tracked in that QB account. VENDOR–“a person or company offering something for sale, especially a trader in the street.”

    So Joseph McStay had an ACCOUNT that he called “CONTACT”, he had Charles Merritt listed as a vendor, someone he paid.

    What Merritt did is he entered a different account JM had titled “CUSTOM”, and in that separate account he added himself as a vendor again.

    It’s like your own personal expenses-you have a bank account, I’m guessing. And you probably pay electric bills, etc. The electric company is a vendor in your life. Your bank account is the means by which you pay that vendor. But your bank account the electric company vendor are in no way connected.

    If someone wanted to hijack your bank account, they wouldn’t go through the electric company to do this. They would mess with your account.

    If Merritt is guilty of theft, he messed with JM’s accounts via QB (CUSTOM). The vendors he added could have been anyone. They are simply a choice, but the account CUSTOM is key to this. Not the vendors, although they play a part, but if Merritt had decided to add Micky Mouse as a vendor, it would amount to the same thing.

  7. Gravitas,

    You are over complicating this. Everyone who owns a computer knows what a harddrive is. If you can work on a program without internet access, that program is on your harddrive.

    If the program you are working on requires internet access then the harddrive is somewhere else (like you said, New Mexico)

    Quick Books used to get downloaded onto our harddrives. We didn’t have to be online to access it. We stored everything on our computers. But when Quick Books and Intuit partnered up, then the program became virtual. And all that virtual means, is that you are using the harddrive of the program. If your computer crashes, you can still get to that data. But if you are working on your own harddrive and your computer crashes, that info is gone, gone, gone.

    It’s like renting out a storage unit. You have access to your junk, but that junk is not being kept in your home. If your home burns down, your junk in storage is safe. But you don’t actually own the unit housing your junk, you are only renting it. So it’s possible if you don’t pay, your junk will disappear…

    1. Good analogy. And further to this, if someone wanted access to your “stored” junk, they wouldn’t have to access your home, they would only have to have access to the storage unit.

      Merritt didn’t have access to Joseph McStay’s home computer, he had access to the QB/Intuit storage unit that stored the data for the account.

      1. Ok so he added a second vendor when there already was one. Same thing. The fact that investigators knew QB was accessed by the home computer was most likely determined by the hard drive. This is not rocket science.

        1. Actually there is a little bit of rocket science involved.

          All that investigators can tell by a computer hard drive is the website that was accessed by the computer. (Look at your computer history. You’ll see what I mean).

          What that hard drive DOES NOT tell you is, in detail, what transactions or activities were performed once the website was accessed. (A separate warrant and search is required for this documentation. The investigators have to access the data recorded by the website itself.–this is all in the SWs and the Prelim.)

          The McStay hard drives were analyzed by Hi-Tech Crimes division of San Bernardino County Sheriff’s department. Detective Hanke reviewed the QB data.

          Do you know what data retention policies are?

          1. No of course it doesn’t. I think investigators (the hi-tech ones) are abreast to certain things that you suggest. But again I have confidence that if they state this transaction was done on on the desktop, physically accessed, they are 100% positive of it and the hard drive reflects that. It’s a real reach for what you’re suggesting.

            1. If Joseph McStay logged onto QB at noon on February 4, 2010, on his desktop computer. And didn’t log out. How would anyone know if he or anyone else accessed QB later in the day from that same computer?

              Try this experiment. Log onto to Facebook. Look at your computer history. Don’t log out. Go and do something for a few minutes. Come back to your computer and go back onto the Facebook exactly where you left it.

              Look at your history again.

              1. I understand clearly about history, thank you.

                You’re implying that someone accessed the home computer from outside the home, went into the QB already (assumed) left opened account, then created and deleted a check, a check to Chase Merritt. But you fail to acknowledge complete lack of reasonable plausibility for this.

                You would have a better argument for Joseph Mcstay creating that check, which is also highly unlikely.

                1. No. I’m not suggesting that someone “ghosted” Joseph McStay’s computer.

                  Someone may have accessed the QB/Intuit software program which is not on the McStay computer. It is a virtual program that exists on a QB/Intuit cloud.

                  Do you understand that QB/Intuit is not downloaded onto a computer the way Excel and Word are. When anyone signed onto McStay’s QB/Intuit account, they were accessing the program virtually.

                2. Do you understand the difference between “virtual” programs and those that actually exist on our hard drives?

                3. Here’s an example of the difference between downloaded programs like Word and virtual programs like QB/Intuit.

                  With Word you download the program onto your computer hard drive and all your actions as well as the documents you generate are stored on your hard drive.

                  QB/Intuit is like on-line banking or going onto Reddit or Websleuths. When you bank on-line the data isn’t stored on your hard drive, you have to access it by way of the bank’s hard drive service (called a cloud). Same thing with Reddit and Websleuths. Those sites have their own hard drive storage (clouds) that they likely lease or pay for monthly. So when you go onto those sites the data you generate isn’t stored on your hard drive, it’s held by the hard drives servicing those sites.

                  Make sense?

                  That’s why Merritt was able to access the Joseph’s QB/Intuit account from another computer.

                  To ghost a computer requires much more than a password to a program, you have to actually gain access to the computer itself.

                  1. Ok, so he gained access to the account, through the computer, but didn’t do it through the computer. He had his own software – QB ONline, which was still in it’s infancy in 2009. He didn’t step one foot in the house, to create and delete the check. Is that right?

                    1. Quickbooks had been a program that was downloaded to each user’s database. But when Quickbooks partnered with Intuit they also offered a virtual application. Joseph McStay was utilizing the virtual application-which was kind of new, but not all that new. I banked on-line as far back as 2007. And any time you visit a website that requires a password, you are entering a virtual site.

                      When Merritt accessed Jospeh’s QB/Intuit account he wasn’t accessing anything but the CUSTOM account-VIRTUALLY-on the QB/Intuit site. Much the same way if you on-line bank, you access info to your accounts on-line in the virtual realm. You don’t actually access any of the computers at the bank.

                      Just think about Websleuths. You sign on with an email and password. If someone else got hold of your email and password, they could sign on as you.

                      That’s what Merritt did. He signed onto QB/Intuit using the email and password that Joseph had created.

                      But at no time has anyone suggested that Merritt “ghosted” McStay’s computer.

                      To ghost someone’s actual computer there is an entirely other set of data you would need.

                    2. But you don’t know he didn’t log out of QB. You still haven’t presented anything convincing that the account wasn’t accessed through the home computer, which goes against witness testimony.

                    3. The DA at prelim stated Joseph McStay did not log out of QB, after he logged on at around noon. That info is in the prelim.

                      If you examine your own computer’s “History” you will see that if you stay logged onto a program, when you return to it later there is no “history” of your return. The hard drive only registers the initial log in to a site. Unless you log out and then log back in.

                    4. “He didn’t step one foot in the house, to create and delete the check. Is that right?”

                      Yes. When Merritt created checks from a computer “not in the McStay residence” all he needed was access to a computer or other device, where ever it was that he did this. The only time Merritt would have actually utilized McStay’s computer, is if Merritt did, in fact, write the 7:59 PM check from McStay’s desktop computer.

                      Otherwise Merritt wrote all the checks from a computer he had, simply by signing onto the QB/Intuit site-utilizing the email and password created by Joseph McStay.

                    5. I’m not referring to the times after the 4th. It is apparent that he logged in and obtained access from somewhere else. I’m only talking about 7:59. You seem to be running in circles. Either he did use the computer or didn’t, you can’t have it both ways.

                    6. What I’m suggesting is that it might be possible that investigators made an assumption. That because Joseph never logged out of QB, and they don’t seem to have been able to attain IP addresses for the any of the transactions, they assumed that the transaction on the 4th was performed in the home.

                      That it’s possible that the only record of any log in that day or night was the log in by Joseph McStay at noonish.

                      Don’t you find it at all odd that Merritt, who had already successfully written a check from somewhere else, would take the time to write a check just after murdering four people in the most brutal way imaginable (and now possibly raping someone)?

                      Why would he return to the McStay home to do this, when he clearly could have done this somewhere else?

                      And does, in fact, write checks from somewhere else after the family goes missing.

                      Don’t you find it at all strange that investigators do not seem to know what computer Merritt used for the checks written on the 2nd, 5th and 8th? That they make no mention of IP addresses for those transactions? That as late as October 15 of 2014 they are still executing search warrants to try and determine how Merritt accessed the QB account? (SB 14-1663)

                      You don’t find this odd at all?

                    7. I find it odd Merritt would murder a family of 4 to begin with. But yes, it is odd he would stop in the middle of it all to do this. People do strange things under extreme circumstances though.

                      But I don’t believe investigators assumed anything.

                    8. That’s possible. Until trial, I guess all we can do is work with the data we have. There is still a lot of wiggle room for theory on this case. But hopefully loose ends will all be neatly and securely tied up by spring. We’ll see then.

                    9. Please understand I’m asking questions and looking at possibilities. That’s all. I don’t know for certain what happened there.

  8. I understand the basics of Computer forensics, but I do have a hard time explaining how this works to people who don’t understand this.

    But for starters accessing someone’s actual computer from another (or remote) location is “ghosting” their computer. This is very different from signing onto an internet based, virtual program–like Facebook. Or Twitter.

    Or in the McStay case, QuickBooks.

  9. Just to be clear, I have no idea who killed the McStays. Where they were killed. Or why they were killed. I don’t know if Merritt is innocent or guilty-I lean both ways on this.

    The only two issues that I have formed any type of conclusive opinion on are: 1) that I don’t see how this crime was carried out by only one person. And 2) the state’s timeline and overall theory of the crime seems off.

    But I couldn’t tell you for certain that the state’s timeline is off, only that for me, there are just too many inconsistencies in the state’s theory of the crime and questions around the evidence that have not yet been answered.

    Regarding the Quickbooks activity, this warrant stands out. It has been briefly discussed on another post, but seems germane to this discussion as well:

    https://mcstayfamilymurdersthetrial.com/sbsw-14-1663-10152016/

  10. “There have to be thousands of trucks that might have left tracks that same width, this in a part of California, where almost everyone owns a truck.”

    Really? This is a complete misnomer. This is like the common belief that everyone in California owns a surfboard. Both are simply untrue. “Almost everyone” does NOT own a truck. As a resident of Southern California, I stepped out in front of my house to take a gander as to how many trucks I could see from my house. 6 trucks out of 25 households. SIX. This far outweighs your estimate. Or was that an ‘Educated Opinion’? Maybe you don’t get out much. Also, I’m sure if I drove around my neighborhood, I might see maybe one single commercial utility truck that resembles Merritt’s. His truck is not as common as a Honda Civic. These statistical facts you seem to gloss over and discard. You also have to consider Merritt was the only person involved in their lives who own such a truck, that just so happens to match the one in the video per testimony.

    1. Here’s an example of what I mean. On this case alone are you aware of how many individuals owned a truck similar in specs to Merritt’s? Joseph McStay’s truck was an approximate match in tire stance (or width). Joseph’s brother Michael, it was pointed out many times owned at least one truck with a potential similar stance. As did a few other “suspects” mentioned over the years.

      I have been to that region and saw trucks everywhere. Even where I live, which is more urban, these types of trucks are quite common as a lot of us travel into more rugged terrain on a regular basis.

      Not to mention, for years it was thought that the vehicle captured by a neighbor’s surveillance camera was not a truck at all, but an SUV type vehicle, which are also ubiquitous these days, and have a similar tire stance to a truck.

      You have to also factor in that I-15 is a major corridor between Cali and Vegas, as well as between Mexico and Canada. So if you were going to be truly scientific about it, you’d have to acquire data on how many utility “Chevy-like” trucks might travel from any number of locations to Fallbrook or to the Victorville area-or through these areas.

      To be absolutely accurate, one would need to check DMV databases. I have not done this. But again, you can see that at least three people directly involved in this case have similar vehicles to the one owned by Merritt. And empirical evidence supports the assertion that there could have been thousands of vehicles similar in stance and to the markings and brake lights that were seen in the bottom 18″ of the truck caught on surveillance, and that these might look identical to one another if this is all the info you have to work with.

      (Remember we only have very degraded track impressions and the bottom 18″ of surveillance footage to go by here.)

      Also, from what I can tell there was still major construction going on in that Fallbrook complex. And the type of truck Merritt owned is very common with housing contractors. Again, this comes from my own experience watching neighbors renovating homes, where everyone hired had one of those trucks.

      No one was driving up in a Prius to perform renovations.

      1. The total amount of people the family knew who owned a truck like Merritt’s: Zero.

        The amount of people Joseph McStay knew named “chase merritt”: One.

        Of course there are other trucks and people that they knew who owned them. You can’t simply isolate and cherry-pick bits and pieces of evidence and say they are not relevant. Because that is exactly what you’re doing. It’s all collective evidence that points squarely at Merritt. It doesn’t matter if there was construction going on in the neighborhood, or if even 10 neighbors on the same block had that truck. A check to “chase merritt” was written on the home computer at 8:05. You brought up suggestion that together Joseph and Chase could have created this new account for him nd wrote the checks. It’s ludicrous considering there was already an account made for Chase.

        Would you prefer I link that?

        1. The check in question was written at 7:59 PM, deleted at 8:05.

          OK, so what evidence exists regarding a vehicle involved in this crime other than highly eroded tire tracks and the bottom 18″ of a vehicle, captured at night, for an instant, by a neighbor’s surveillance camera?

          Are you saying that an actual ID was made of that truck?

          “The total amount of people the family knew who owned a truck like Merritt’s: Zero.”

          You are wrong about this. I don’t like to name people who have never been identified publicly as suspects on this case, but I’ve been following this for years and the number of similar trucks to Merritt’s that have been discussed online-which were owned by people who knew the McStays, would be comical if this tragedy weren’t so devastating.

          1. 7:59/8:05 – as if they are two different events/entities LOL.

            I too have been following for years and have yet to come across anyone they knew of what you speak. Maybe you’ve trolled deeper than I and perhaps have been down one too many rabbit holes. That will cloud your judgement.

            I think maybe Mike has one or two acquaintances who have a similar truck. But seriously, anyone who wants to make a leap into that deep end, more power to them. There is a huge difference of someone owning a white truck and a Chevy Utility truck as well. But I would be intrigued as to your ‘findings’.

            1. I was using this as an example. And it doesn’t matter if someone else’s vehicle is like Merritt’s. The question is: Is someone else’s vehicle consistent with the evidence? And this could be a person known well by the McStays, known casually, or not known at all until the murders.

              What vehicles are consistent with the bottom 18 inches of the truck caught on surveillance? What vehicles are consistent with the tire track stance recorded at the grave-sites?

              I would suggest that until a positive ID can be made for either the truck captured on surveillance, or the vehicle/s that made the tracks at the graves, the possible matches for this very vague and inconclusive evidence is-a lot. Perhaps in the thousands of vehicles that could have been in those areas for any number of reasons.

              Also, what proof is there that the vehicle captured on surveillance was even involved in a crime? Could simply have been someone turning around in the cul de sac.

              And the other evidence that night is the 8:28 PM call from Joseph McStay’s phone. This coupled with the check writing at 7:59 PM could indicate that the McStays were alive then, and that for whatever reason Joseph wrote that check.

              There is another possibility, and this is that the 7:59 PM check was not written from the McStay home.

                  1. Sorry, page 109.

                    “1 Q One check?
                    2 A Yes.
                    3 Q What time was that at?
                    4 A At 7:59 P.M.
                    5 Q Was that transaction conducted from either of the
                    6 McStays’ computers?
                    7 A Yes, sir.
                    8 Q Do you know if it was the desktop or the laptop?
                    9 A It was the desktop.”

                    1. Yes. I know. But JM opened his desktop to QB earlier that day (before his lunch meeting with Merritt) and never logged out.

                      There is a possibility that on the evening of February 4, at around 7:59 PM, someone from a computer, not in the McStay home logged into QB again, that this data wasn’t retained by QB (there was an issue in 2010 regarding QB/Intuit (the on-line program) not registering who signed into accounts via the internet, if there was more than one person with access). So it appears on first blush that the transaction took place from the Desktop computer, but actually a computer from an outside location logged on by way of the software. And this information simply isn’t monitored or retained by QB.

                      Caveat: my research on this was by way of message boards dedicated to problem solving for QB/Intuit 2010.

                      The other possibility is that Joseph McStay wrote that check. JM was alive on February 2 when the first of the Merritt checks was written and printed, and per a SW 14 1663 (https://mcstayfamilymurdersthetrial.com/sbsw-14-1663-10152016/) someone, using the McStay desktop logged onto quickbooks from the McStay home on February 2–using the desktop computer.

                      The prelim states something different, however I have found a number contradictions between the SWs and the prelim. So it’s hard to know which source is correct. Or what the full story is.

                    2. The likelihood of the account being accessed remotely is so minute, it’s not worth a rebuttal.

                      You keep ignoring the fact Merritt already had an account. But I’m sure there’s some logical excuse to create another, right?

                    3. I’m not talking about accessing Joseph McStay’s computer by “remote”. (or ghosting a computer)

                      Do you understand the difference between entering an actual computer (hard drive) via an internet connection, and accessing an app or software program’s “cloud” (or hard drives) via a sign on email and password?

                      Merritt accessed McStay’s Quickbook Intuit account, via a cloud, not by way of Joseph McStay’s computer. Quickbooks/Intuit is a virtual program. It exists in a “cloud” (clouds are hard drives maintained by the software company, these are often stored in huge facilities-banks and banks of hard drives-in places like New Mexico).

                      And Merritt never added a new account, what he added was a “new” VENDOR, or really two new vendors, to the McStay’s “Custom” account. These two vendors (Merritt and Metro) were already listed in the “Contacts” account.

                      Intuit/Quickbooks operates much like Facebook and Gmail do. But those programs store IP addresses (I’m pretty sure); QuickBooks, in 2010, did not store IP addresses for individual transactions. (You have wordpress, you get that IP addresses are the way in which users signing onto a program, or using a program are identified? Right?)

                      So if someone signed onto QB/Intuit, this data may not have been accessible to investigators 3 years after the fact because QB didn’t retain the IP addresses. And my understanding is that you need IP addresses to identify users for virtual programs.

                      Again, I’m not talking about ghosting a machine.

                      I think you have to have some background in computers to understand this. We may be at an impasse, here. We should probably just wait until trial.

                    4. I’ll stick with the testimony that the account was accessed from the desktop within the home. I’m sorry your theory just doesn’t fly.

                    5. “And Merritt never added a new account, what he added was a “new” VENDOR, or really two new vendors, to the McStay’s “Custom” account.”

                      Please explain the difference. There isn’t one. Think about what you’re saying. Bottom line, Chase basically created the new account, wrote the checks and deleted them, thinking Joseph (and no one else) would catch on.

                    6. You don’t understand the difference between a QB “account” and a “vendor” within that account? Have you ever used QB or any accounting software?

    2. I do think that it is very important to remember that the only evidence we are working off of is flimsy to begin with. There is the bottom 18″ of a vehicle captured at night, for only an instant, by a neighbor’s surveillance camera.

      And tire track impressions that are over three years old and very eroded.

      I’m not even certain how an accurate read of the stance can be had with the tire impressions that old and degraded, but this will be interesting to learn about at trial. But this is like a composite sketch depicting a murky figure that is consistent with being human was seen leaving a crime scene. The data on the vehicle/vehicles in question on this crime are unbelievably vague (and if the stance differences at the grave are any indication there may have been two different vehicles involved).

      No conclusive ID has been made.

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