Questions to be answered at the Preliminary Hearing:
- is there enough probable cause to believe that a crime was committed, and
- 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.