Preliminary Hearing: June 15, 2015

Questions to be answered at the Preliminary Hearing:

  1. is there enough probable cause to believe that a crime was committed, and
  2. if so, is there enough probable cause to believe that the defendant is the person who committed that crime?

Did the DA achieve this?

From the transcript pgs 151-153:

Judge Michael Smith, heretofore referred to by himself, as the Court:

“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 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, 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.

65 Comments

  1. We’re going to organize this thread differently. I think we should actully break down, chapter by chapter what is presented in the prelim. It will make it easier to look stuff up later.

        1. I agree. He is also vague. When he spells out his reasoning, it almost sounds like a list of coincidences.

  2. Q Who is Don Jones?
    A Don Jones is a retired criminalist. He was employed by the County of San Bernardino as a criminalist for over 20 years. During the course of his assignment he was assigned to process DNA at our Sheriff’s Department crime lab.
    Q Did you ask him in this case if he — or did he do the DNA analysis in this case?
    A He did. Mr. Jones was actually assigned specifically to this case. So, any evidence we needed processed went directly to Jones for processing.
    Q Did he receive the buccal swab of the defendant that was collected by Detective DuGal?
    A He did.
    Q What did he do with that buccal swab?
    A So, from the swabs that he collected he took the buccal
    swab that DuGal collected from Merritt and extracted DNA from that. And he basically built a DNA profile off of the sample
    that was on the swab.

  3. Q Did — during the course of that interview, did Detective Fisk ask the defendant at least twice if he had ever driven the Isuzu Trooper?
    A Yes.
    Q And what — what was the defendant’s response?
    A Yes.
    A He said he had not.
    Q Did he tell you and Detective Fisk whether he had been in the Trooper?
    AYes.
    Q What did he tell you?
    A He had been in it on at least one occasion or more. And
    the last time he could immediately recall being in the Isuzu Trooper was weeks before our interview on February 17th of 2010, when he went to play paintball with Joseph.
    Q But he indicated that he was the front passenger during that time?
    A Yes.

  4. The only thing on that Sleuth is that we don’t know for certain of the accuracy of the version of Joey’s cell phone log that travelled the internet for years.

    I think the important thing here is to understand that the information given at prelim isn’t as specific or clear as it might have been. And this might not matter. Even with all the hiccups the DA may have gotten it right.

    On the other hand there is much we can’t be certain of until the trial.

    1. Lesson to had: Keep an open mind.

      And this is the tip of the iceberg to what Sleuth found. We’ll keep working on presentation.

  5. Did you ask him about statements that he had made
    previously that he received a call from Joseph at about 8:30 that night?
    A Yes, I believe we did.
    Q Are you familiar with those statements? AYes.
    Q Do you know he said that?
    AYes.
    Q Did you ask him about that statement?
    A Yes.
    Q What was his response?
    A I believe he still said that he received a call and did
    not answer it. He saw Joseph calling, but he just let it go to voice mail, did not answer the phone.
    Q Did he tell you that that was really his wife’s memory and not his?
    A I believe he did say that.
    Q And he was just saying that because he was relying on her memory?.
    A Yes.
    Q Did you show him the checks that were created on February 5th and backdated to February 4th?
    A Yes, I did.
    Q Did he tell you he wrote those checks?
    A I don’t believe he said he — I believe he said Joseph
    wrote the checks.
    Q Did he identify the typewritten entries and say: Those
    
    A That’s correct.
    Q Did you confront him with the fact that those checks that were dated February 4th to himself and to Metro Sheet Metal were backdated?
    A Yes, I did.
    Q Did you ask him why in the world they would be backdated to the date this family went missing?
    AYes.
    Q Did he deny backdating any of those checks?
    A He did not deny.
    Q Did he have an explanation as to why he would back-date
    those checks?
    A He did not offer any explanations.

  6. I’m not sure where to start, but I see lots of problems with the State’s presentation here. One, they say that Chase went home after he met with Joey. Well if he went home at say, 3pm, then he and Jarvis could have started watching a movie early enough that it was an earlier call from Joey that Chase decided to ignore.

    The state should have figured out what time they are talking about when asking Chase questions.

    Maybe the reason Chase is so confused is that the questions are confusing.

    From the prelim:

    Q Was he able to describe for you what he did after he had
    his meeting with Joseph McStay?
    A I believe he said he went home.
    Q Was he able to tell you whether he remembered what he did
    the rest of that evening?
    A I asked him. He said that he watched TV, and then later
    he told me they didn’t have TV at the time, so he must have been
    watching a movie at his residence.

    1. OK. so this is from the SBC for 1591:

      “Meritt was the last person to speak and see Joseph prior to the family’s disappearance.

      In his interview, Merritt stated he met Joseph a Chic-Fil-A in Rancho Cucamonga to discuss an upcoming project. Merritt claimed the meeting was face to face so he could receive payment for several completed jobs from Joseph. In reviewing Joseph’s union Bank records obtained via search warrant (SBSW 14-0343), I identified four checks written to Charles Merritt around the time the McStay family went missing.

      One of the checks is date February 2nd 2010, check #4240 for $2,495. Three of the checks are dated February 4th 2010: Check #4237 for $4,500 check #4241 for $6,500.00, and check $4242 for $2,350.00. During a review of Joseph’s Quickbook accounting software, it is discovered checks #4237, #4241, and #4242, were written after February 4th 2010 then backdated to February 4th and deleted. The signature on the checks is not consistent with Joseph’s and appears to be forged.”

        1. Based on what comes before this on the SBCA it seems like Ryan is referring to interviews Chase had with San Diego. Back in 2010. But it’s hard to tell.

          1. What is also hard to tell is if Ryan means that all four checks were forged, or if only the checks written after the 4th look forged.

            But now we seem to know which of all the checks Merritt drafted were actually deposited or cashed by him.

            The prelim is a little confusing on this.

            1. So the amount (aside from the Metro checks) that Merritt gave himself would appear to be $15,845.00.

              That sounds like a lot of money, but given the type of projects he and joey were working on, I’m not sure that’s so much.

              Lurk has a valid point though. If the amounts are legit, why lie?

              1. If the check written Feb 2 is not forged then the excuse could be that Chase could not reach Joey and he wrote the checks thinking that they could figure it out when Joey got back. Question is can Chase prove Joey gave him the blank checks?

                Was Joey’s DNA on those checks? Were his fingerprints on them?

                1. And also, did Chase lie. We dont’ get details on any of Chase’s interviews. I think you pointed this out. We don’t know what Chase said.

  7. This excerpt is from page 62 of the prelim-the interview with Dugal:

    Q Did he tell you when he last saw Joseph McStay in person? A He did.
    Q What did he tell you?
    A February 4th, 2010, around lunchtime, at a Chick-fil-A in
    Rancho Cucamonga.
    Q Did he tell you what the purpose of that meeting was at
    the Chick-fil-A in Rancho Cucamonga?
    A It was strictly business. They were going to discuss
    present and future projects. And Chase was there to receive a check. Or checks.
    Q Did he tell you that he received, physically received the checks?
    A Yes.
    Q And that was the purpose of the meeting?
    A Yes. Well, that’s one of the purposes. It’s business
    related, but, yes.
    Q And was one of the checks that he said he received for a
    A I remember the name Dave related to a company, Metro Sheet Metal, and it’s in the — I don’t know if it was in Rancho Cucamonga, but it’s out here, not in San Diego.
    Q Now, you have used several times the word “Chase,” or I may have even used it.
    Does the defendant go by “Chase”?
    A Yes, and I’m sorry if I have. That’s what he had me
    refer to him as every time I talked to him.
    Q Did — was the defendant, did he give you a time frame as
    to when this meeting occurred on February 4th?
    A He did. I don’t — I don’t remember the specific hour or
    minutes, but it was essentially a lunch meeting. And then Joseph left Chick-fil-A and returned home.

    1. This is Detective Hanke being interviewed (Hanke was the one who got the QB warrant and analyzed those records) Page 120 of the transcript and this is when Hanke and Bachman interview Chase in 2014:

      (By Mr. Daugherty) On October 22nd, 2014, did you participate in an interview with the defendant?
      A Yes, I did.
      Q And did you do that along with Detective Bachman?
      A Yes, I did.
      Q Was the defendant out of custody when you conducted that
      interview?
      A He was.
      Q Was he ever placed in handcuffs during that interview? A He was not.
      Q After the interview, what happened to the defendant?
      A He was free to leave.
      Q Okay. Did you — well, let me ask you this. Did you ask
      the defendant what had happened on February 4th when he met with Joseph?
      A Yes.
      Q What did he tell you?
      A He told me he discussed business deals and that he received checks when they were at Chick-fil-A restaurant.
      Q Did he say that, did he describe the nature of the relationship with Metro Sheet Metal and Earth Inspired Products?
      A Yes, he did.
      Q What did he tell you?
      A He said that Metro Sheet Metal had been contracted, he
      arranged the contracts with Metro Sheet Metal, that they were doing the fabrication of the fountains and he was helping. He was kind of a middleman, where he was helping ship out the fountains. Metro Sheet Metal was actually creating the fountains.
      Q Did you speak with anyone at Metro Sheet Metal? A Yes, I did.
      Q Did you speak with David Sequieda?
      A Yes, I did.
      Q What did he tell you about the business relationship between Joseph and/or between Earth Inspired Products and his business?
      A He stated that he had a partnership with Joseph. That it was between him and Joseph to create these fountains, and that Charles Merritt worked in the shop, he helped do the creating, the materials, and shipping out the product.
      But the primary area of the business was between Joseph and David Sequieda.
      Q Did David Sequieda provide you with an e-mail from Joseph regarding an unpaid invoice for a project?

      
      A Yes, he did.
      Q What did that e-mail say?
      A It was an e-mail to Joseph asking about funds for
      materials. Joseph’s response to that e-mail was, as he had talked about before, that Chase was responsible for the materials, the creating, as far as the materials go, to ship. And that if he wouldn’t pay that, Joseph would take care of it again, like he had done in the past. Basically, he would pay the debt.
      Q When was that e-mail?
      A I don’t recall the date.
      Q Do you recall how long in relation to February 4th?
      A It was approximately one month prior.
      Q Did you ask the defendant during the October 22nd, 2014
      interview whether Joseph owed Metro Sheet Metal money? Or did you ask him about these checks that were created to Metro Sheet Metal?
      A Yes, I did.
      Q What did he tell you about those checks?
      A He said Joseph gave Merritt checks to pay Metro Sheet
      Metal.
      Q Was he able to describe for you what he did after he had
      his meeting with Joseph McStay?
      A I believe he said he went home.
      Q Was he able to tell you whether he remembered what he did
      the rest of that evening?
      A I asked him. He said that he watched TV, and then later
      he told me they didn’t have TV at the time, so he must have been
      watching a movie at his residence.
      Q Did you ask him about statements that he had made
      previously that he received a call from Joseph at about 8:30 that night?
      A Yes, I believe we did.
      Q Are you familiar with those statements? AYes.
      Q Do you know he said that?
      AYes.
      Q Did you ask him about that statement?
      A Yes.
      Q What was his response?
      A I believe he still said that he received a call and did
      not answer it. He saw Joseph calling, but he just let it go to voice mail, did not answer the phone.
      Q Did he tell you that that was really his wife’s memory and not his?
      A I believe he did say that.
      Q And he was just saying that because he was relying on her memory?
      A Yes.
      Q Did you show him the checks that were created on February 5th and backdated to February 4th?
      A Yes, I did.
      Q Did he tell you he wrote those checks?
      A I don’t believe he said he — I believe he said Joseph
      wrote the checks.
      Q Did he identify the typewritten entries and say: Those
      
      A That’s correct.
      Q Did you confront him with the fact that those checks that were dated February 4th to himself and to Metro Sheet Metal were backdated?
      A Yes, I did.
      Q Did you ask him why in the world they would be backdated to the date this family went missing?
      AYes.
      Q Did he deny backdating any of those checks?
      A He did not deny.
      Q Did he have an explanation as to why he would back-date
      those checks?
      A He did not offer any explanations.
      Q Did you ask him about being in Victorville near the
      graves on February 6th, 2010?
      A Yes.
      Q Was he able to provide you with an explanation for why
      his cell phone was in the Victorville area on February 6th, 2010?
      A He told me he was not in the High Desert on that day.
      Q Did you ask him about deleting the QuickBooks online account?
      A Yes.
      Q Did he tell you that he never attempted to delete the QuickBooks online account?
      A I believe he told me — there was multiple stories. I’m sorry.
      124
      were typewritten, he wouldn’t have done that?
      
      Q Did you confront him with — with several times from
      February 4th to February 9th where his cell phone either was off or out of range or in airplane mode?
      A Yes, I did.
      Q Was he able to give you an explanation as why that would have been?
      MR. TERRELL: Objection to the line of questioning as argumentative, your Honor.
      Q that A Q
      A
      Q four
      (By Mr. Daugherty) Did you confront him with the fact he did not receive a call from Joseph at 8:30 —
      Yes, I did.
      — as he previously said?
      Did he have any explanation for that?
      No, he did not.
      And you told him that his phone was off for approximately hours on February 4th. And did he provide you with an
      THE COURT: Overruled.
      THE WITNESS: No, he could not give an explanation.
      explanation for that?
      A
      No he could not.
      MR. DAUGHERTY: I have no further questions.

  8. The posts are alittle bit of a mess, but I’ll orgainze them better later. Actually if Sleuth wants to type them up and make them all pretty that would be awesome.

  9. OK. Let’s just say that, for whatever reason, Chase was given access to write checks for himself from Joey’s Custom account. Not the Contact account.

    And the reason Chase deletes the entries from the Custom side, is that Joey is going to add them to the Contact side later (because he doesn’t want Chase to have access to all his finances.)

    1. Sorry to interrupt you. I know we keep doing this. But one thing that supports this idea is that even after Merritt can’t get in touch with Joey, he continues to delete the entries. If he knows Joey is dead, why delete the check writing from the register?

      I mean if Merritt killed Joey, he knows Joey won’t be around to contradict him when he says he was given permission to write those checks.

  10. This is a conintuation of the theories I presented before.

    So, Joey isn’t feeling good. He thinks maybe it’s best if Chase is around less for the sake of his marriage.

    1. Sorry. Stopping you again. If that’s true, then why was Chase around so much that week. From all the interveiws etc, it seems like Chase was at the house almost every day the week of and prior to the McStays going missing.

                  1. Continue Sleuth. But maybe start at the top of the page. I don’t know how to fix this so that it is easier to comment on a long thread.

  11. I’m going to take a crack at justifying the check writing, but in doing so, I also have to shake up the facts we know. I’m going to have to speculate a little here. No other way, sense we don’t know the defense’s case.

      1. What if Chase had written checks before. Maybe he was allowed to handwrite checks, and this didn’t work out so well, so Joey decided to show him how to computer generate the checks?

        1. This is why you need a forensic accountant to look over all this stuff. The investigators may have zeroed in so hard on the days around the murders, they didn’t notice other discrepancies that pointed to Chase and Joey working out ways for him to be paid that weren’t standard.

          1. I’m going to stop you right there. Why would there be a need to work out alternate payment methods. Joey could mail the checks. They only lived an hour apart, and they saw each other all the time. What is the need for Chase to write any checks for himself?

            1. In November of that year, according to a few of the interviews on the case, Joey was so sick he had to be hosptitalized. There was a lot of tension between Summer and Joey, and it might be that some of that tension was due to Chase’s presence and Joey’s talking so much to him and hanging with him so much.

              It really is possible that some of the tension between Chase and Summer was jealosy over Joey’s time.

              Maybe Joey was trying to figure out ways of seeing less of Chase in order to reduce tensions with his wife.

              I am speculating.

                1. Except that Chase really had to have that constant influx of money to do what he did. He had to have supplies. He had people he paid, he rented his warehouse space.

                  Chase’s overhead was probably substantial.

                    1. Or. He was trustworthy. If he didn’t kill the family then what he was doing wtih the checks doesn’t seem all that bad.

                      And he and Joey dealt in large numbers. 15,000 isn’t all that much money for Chase to be getting if they are about to ship out over 60,000 worth of fountains.

  12. Anonymous 7:34 I saw you comment on the public forum regarding Hae Min Lee’s family. Unfortunately family members of victims can be complicit in wrongful convictions. They want so much to believe in LE that they can be blinded to inconsistencies. And It has to be so painful to think that the person who did this thing to their loved one, might still be out there, free.

    Family members of victims deserve justice, absolutely. But they don’t have a right to a faux justice just to satisfy their anguish, no matter how justified that anguish is. An innocent person’s life is not a fair trade here. And the family only gets justice if the right person is behind bars.

    Unfortunately in regard to the Hae Min Lee murder, based on all I’ve read and heard on the podcasts, the Baltimore police botched this case so completely that finding the real killer may be impossible at this point. But this doesn’t mean that Adnan Syed should then become the sacrificial lamb so to speak, just so some people can feel better about what happened.

    Murder investigations should not be a zero sum game, the only pursuit should be true justice. Unfortunately when those in a position of authority are in any way corrupt, it becomes a game where loss is piled on top of loss.

    It’s so important that investigators, prosecutors and judges operate with the utmost ethics.

    1. If you read Michael Morton’s book about his exoneration, even when it’s proven absolutely that someone else killed his wife, his very own son and the mother of the victim, STILL had trouble changing their view on the matter.

      The son came around fairly quickly and they bonded, and I think the mother-in-law did eventually come around, but belief lies in a stubborn part of our brains.

      Once we believe something and have invested in that belief, especially something we believe related to a trauma in our lives, changing that belief is like drilling into concrete. We tend not to want to let go.

  13. What if we listed all the places where the DA is simply not specific, like the checks and the specific time of night some thngs occur.

  14. I’m going to be posting more content. But here’s the transcript for anyone who hasn’t seen it. I have highlighted this copy in places I was examining.

      1. Do we know if there was ever a forensic acccountant who worked on this case. Someone who went through all Joey and Chase’s finances to see if what was happening around the time of the murders was unusual. I mean between Chase and Joey.

        I’ve looked at the phone long and nothing seems out of the ordinary there. There phone call patterns were consistent right up until the end.

        Maybe the check writing was actually in keeping with financial arrangements they’ve had before.

        I mean, what if Chase was just upgrading the QB and the operator misunderstood what he wanted to do.

        1. The only problem I have with that is I can’t see why Joey would ask Merritt to do anything with his QB account. What would be the possible reason Joey would need Merritt to make changes for him?

          Joey was very capable of making these changes himself.

            1. Let’s look at all the evidence around the check writing and QB through the lens of innocence. So just for this exercise, let’s imagine we know for a fact Merritt is 100% innocent of any crime, what might have been a reasonable explanation for what was going on with this activity on Merritt’s part:

              And again, regardless of what you believe, just imagine for a moment that all this activity is legitimate and was OK with Joey.

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