…convict a man?
“A Lie Repeated Often Enough Becomes Accepted Truth”
The state’s narrative on a criminal case is often the only source of information the general public has easy access to. It is also, very likely, the only side of the story or version of events that most people will absorb. So it matters.
In my experience, this narrative is somewhat fixed and unwavering. Unless new evidence presents itself, the state’s version of what occurred will not waiver from what is stated at the arrest, and then at prelim, all the way through trial. We may learn more in time, but it is unusual for the narrative to do a back-flip, as happened in People v. Merritt.
What occurred in People v. Merritt struck me as highly unusual, in that, by the end of the trial, absent any new evidence, District Attorneys completely contradicted previous narratives, and appeared almost to be making stuff up as they went along. Maybe I’m naive, but I didn’t think that a trial was supposed to include a side-show of improv.
What stood out most starkly is that not one of the narratives finally presented at trial had any real evidentiary support.
How is it that a District Attorney’s office can have a case under their supervision for over four years, and by trial not be able to sufficiently support, with evidence, even one of the narratives offered to the jury?
For a quick review, the L.A Times article below and the YouTube video of San Bernardino Sheriff’s department announcing Merritt’s arrest give a quick synopsis of the original narrative offered:
The narrative at the preliminary hearing in 2015 stayed consistent with the above. The honorable Judge Michael Smith gave the following reasoning as to why he held Chase Merritt to answer for the charges (Pg. 151 -153 June 15, 2015 Preliminary Hearing Transcript):
“Well, first of all, of course, this is a preliminary hearing. And the prosecution’s burden is to present sufficient evidence for the Court to have probable cause to believe that,
No. 1. That a crime was committed.
And, No. 2. Probable cause to believe that the defendant was a participant in that crime.
The evidence here, the Court is satisfied that the evidence is sufficient for the Court to make those findings.
The Court does find that there is probable cause to believe that the four counts of murder were committed, and probable cause to believe that the defendant, Mr. Merritt, was a participant in those four crimes of murder.
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 10 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 21 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.”
The full transcript for the preliminary hearing is available to read here:
Search warrants that were published shortly after the prelim can be found here:
Below are all the varying theories put forward by the prosecution on this case.
The first theory presented in full at the preliminary hearing in June of 2015 was:
- The murders occurred in the McStay residence on February 4, 2010 between 6:47PM & 7:47PM
- A futon cover used to package Joseph McStay came from the home
- Headlights captured on a neighbor’s surveillance camera at 7:47 PM were those of Merritt’s 3700 Chevy truck
- Chase buried the McStays in the Victorville desert Feb. 6
- Chase drove the McStay Isuzu Trooper to the San Ysidro border Feb.8
- Chase returned to the McStay residence to clean the home
- Chase did all the above because he had been fired by Joseph
- Joseph fired Chase because he discovered that Chase stole money from him by way of Quickbooks
- Chase was in deep debt due to gambling
But a funny thing occurred midway through trial. During the testimony of Defense blood expert Randolph Beasley DDA Daugherty suddenly put forward the theory that the murders occurred the morning of February 5th, rather than the evening of the 4th. (side-note: even though the assertion that the murders occurred in the the McStay residence was central to the state’s case, they failed to bring a blood expert to the stand)