If the Lights Don’t Fit, You Must Acquit

I hate to bring a quote from the OJ trial into this, because, though there are similarities between this trial and that one, there are also many differences, as well. One being that I am certain that Chase Merritt is innocent. Whereas, OJ…not so much.

But the Cochran expression, reworked, kind of says it all. And in People v. Merritt, a video with questionable evidentiary value has taken center stage.

In and of itself, the grainy, capture of headlights at 7:47 PM, February 4, means nothing, because no conclusive ID is made or can be made.  There is no license plate number, not even the color or make is revealed.  There is no corroborating evidence to place that video into context.  No eyewitness who saw a suspicious vehicle that night. There isn’t even any evidence that the McStays were killed in their home.

But as the debate rages on as to whether this is Chase Merritt’s Chevy, the question that comes to mind is: Why bother with recreations, why not work solely off the two videos that depict the actual vehicles in question?

The best source for comparison is in two days of trial. The opening remarks by defense, and the testimony of Jennifer Mitchley. (I’ve posted short clips in the comment sections below.)

Video/Audio of People v. Merritt Trial

But here’s something else: Why, if the light that appears behind the back bumper of the vehicle in the Mitchley video, is from brake lights, is there no glow from above?  No reflection off the upper portion of the truck or SUV, that would logically beam from the RED part of brake lights that every vehicle has.  Lights that are for good reason, always quite bright and distinctive?

Back lights of vehicle captured in the “Mitchley” video. These lights are two low to have been those of the Merritt’s Chevy truck. The brake lights on which, were a good foot higher on the back carriage of the truck.

The cast off of the brake light would occur higher up than the bumper.  And the red “glow” should, it seems, reflect off some upper portion of whatever truck or SUV was captured.  Chase had a white truck, so common sense says there absolutely should have been some kind of reflection from high up, off some portion of the top part of the truck.  And that small box of light, which has been speculated to be either a running light, or a reflection off a clasp, is still visible when that light under the bumper appears-which means that a portion of that vehicle would have been viewable had there been a brake light cast on it.

Granted the Michtley video might not capture the red color, but the glow from the red portion of the brake light seems as if it should be visible.

PIcChase truck from side with Glow

Could it just possibly be that the light streaming from back of the vehicle is that of “back-up” lights, or rear bumper lights that many owners of trucks, especially off-road terrain vehicles, install for themselves.  See pics below.

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It’s hard to say.  But it might explain why the vehicle in the Mitchley video has a light under the bumper, when the vehicle itself does not appear to be stopping or even slowing down. [If the vehicle captured entering the cul de sac just moments before the Mitchley truck appears exiting, made a K-turn, did the driver turn on the back-up lights to momentarily back into the McStay drive, and failed to turn them off as he/she drove forward?  There is a street Avocado Vista, that intersects with Avocado Vista Lane (the street the McStay’s lived on) just before the cul de sac.  Doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that people often got confused and drove past Avocado Vista by accident.]

In both instances when this light beneath the bumper appears, the rear of the truck has just come into camera view.  Maybe an illusion of brake lights was created by this coincidence-that what we are actually viewing is the moment when those lights become visible to both Camera 7 and the porch camera, not a driver putting on the brakes.

But beyond this little theory, which may be as meaningless as the Mitchley video itself:

Do the lights on that video match or fit with those on Chase’s truck?

I think not.

It does not appear that the headlights and the tail light of the truck on the Mitchley video are consistent, in any way, with the vehicle Merritt drove at the time of the murders.  The headlights for one, are configured differently. Merritt’s Chevy has an additional light just beneath the headlight. (I don’t know what the technical name for that is). The vehicle in the Mitchley video does not.

Defense exhibits

The rear taillights are at different heights from one another. And if that small box of light is a “reflection” as state’s expert Liscio suggests, why don’t all the clasps on Merritt’s truck reflect?

Chase truck from side

Here’s are the pictures.  And I have manipulated them a little by increasing contrast on both:

Close up of MitchelyPM
Mitchley Video
Merritt truck againPM
Chase Merritt Truck 

Here they are again, side by side:

Here is the defense exhibit objected to by the DA (why?):

Merritt Truck V Mitchely

Screen Shot 2019-02-06 at 9.57.36 AM

Doesn’t look like the same truck to me, not only from the front of the truck, and it looks like the back lights on Chase Merritt’s truck are considerably higher than on the Mitchley vehicle, as well. Twenty-one inches higher, as has been measured.  So why can’t the DA give up the ghost on this?

Even if an expert were able to definitively state that Merritt’s truck can’t be ruled out, this still doesn’t mean it was the defendant’s vehicle. And so far, the experts for the prosecution have admitted their results are inclusive.  It might be Chase’s truck, it might not be.  In fact, one witness for the prosecution, Dr. Rudin, is going to be brought back by the defense.

Testimony of Neighbor whose surveillance camera captured the lights of the unknown truck:

[At the 9:47 point in this video, Mitchley states that it was common for the McStay Trooper to be backed into the McStay drive. 

The Dodge when found, is parked allowing for a second vehicle.  If Chase wasn’t expected that night, why would there have been a space left for him on the drive? Doesn’t it really make more sense that the Trooper was in that space, once Joseph McStay got home that night?]

So then yet another question begs to be asked: If both McStay vehicles are parked in the drive once Joseph McStay returns home at 4:15, how is it that three hours later there is room for a truck neither McStay was expecting to arrive to their home?

How then does a third vehicle even park on that very short drive?

Three large vehicles, one short drive.

This parking arrangement was clarified during direct, when DA Rodriguez asks Jennifer Mitchley where the Trooper was usually parked:

Mitchley answers: The SUV one was usually backed into the driveway.

Rodriguez asks: Do you remember seeing that vehicle ever parked out in the street.

Mitchley answers: I don’t remember that.

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[Chase Merritt in his 2010 interview with San Diego investigators, did state that Joseph’s Trooper was always parked in the street.  Not sure how he would know this occurred on the days he wasn’t present.  So, where Joseph parked may have varied or be uncertain.  I actually trust Mitchley’s account more, but this could be my own confirmation bias.]

Day 44-Part 1 Randolph B. Beasley

At the 34:06 point in the above video DA Daugherty asks Beasley:


“Well, let me ask you this. Let’s assume that the family was murdered either the night of February 4th or the early hours of February 5th, if a person between 7AM and 10:15 was unaccounted for, that would be three hours and fifteen minutes that they could potentially clean up. Right?”

Now even a DA is suggesting the state’s original narrative might be in error.  If so then the truck definitely has zero meaning, and yet the debate rages on. 

I do understand why the defense has to counter.  And they’ve done a hell of a job. But again, I do not get how disembodied headlights were ever allowed into evidence in the first place.  It’s the most annoying and useless aspect of state’s evidence for me.  

Here is all the testimony so far around the truck:

Testimony of Jennifer Mitchley

Testimony of Dr. Leonid Rudin Part 1

Testimony of Dr. Leonid Rudin Part 2

Testimony of Eugene Liscio Part 1

Testimony of Eugene Liscio Part 2

Testimony of Eugene Liscio Part 3

Testimony of Eugene Liscio Part 4

Testimony of Statchman Part 1

Testimony of Stachman Part 2

Testimony of Statchman Part 3

Originally the vehicle captured in the video was thought to be the Trooper. Here are shots of this for reference.

14 thoughts on “If the Lights Don’t Fit, You Must Acquit

    1. How would you be able to tell? I see what you mean, but I don’t know how to differentiate between LEDs and regular lights in a video clip like that. It’s so distorted. Can you explain a little more what makes you think this?

          1. On a Ford 150 that back white tail light is at the same height as the front lights. LED has 180 direction, rather than 360, so it would hit the ground more, just like the truck in the Mitchely video. The ground gets more coverage in the neighbor’s video than the video with the Chevy.

            1. That’s interesting. I do wish it was possible to see a pick up truck do that drive. I see the similarity to the Ford. Especially an older model. And the other thing about the truck in the Mitchley video is that we don’t know what condition it was in.

              The comparison seems a false one, for that reason as well.

              But I agree. I think the truck in the Mitchley video is a pickup truck, not a utility truck.

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