*The original date of this piece was 2017. Much has occurred on this case since then.
Charles (Chase) Merritt’s legal representation has evolved since his arrest for the murders of the McStay family, yet his defense strategy remains elusive. What we do know is that a great deal of work has been performed by the defense team in the last two years. Even recently there is some form of subpoena (in dispute), directed to the office of the San Diego County District Attorney. [The court docket is not clear as to whether the most recent subpoena in dispute-directed to SD District Attorney (see Court Report) is from Merritt’s defense team, but it seems likely that it is. I’m not sure why SBC DA would need to subpoena information from another district attorney’s office, on this case.]
Elluma Discovery, a primarily tech-forensic company, has billed regularly over the last year and a half, suggesting that much of the focus of the defense is on the computer and cell phone ping evidence presented by the state.
Per San Bernardino Court Docket on this case, the following entities have received subpoenas from Merritt’s team.
- Paul Mitchell
- Verizon (landline)
- Verizon (wireless)
- Southern California Edison
- Union Bank
- Metro Sheet Metal
- Western Towing
- Chula Vista Police Department
- Bank of America
- Office of the San Diego County District Attorney (not sure if this is a defense subpoena-but there is a hearing to quash, 9/21/2017)
Merritt was initially represented by Attorney Robert Ponce (November 2014), who in addition to being present at the first few hearings on the McStay case, assisted Merritt with a pending traffic violation that was still on the books at the time of Merritt’s arrest for quadruple murder .
In January 2015, Merritt then chose to represent himself (pro per), aided by a court appointed defense attorney, David Call, as well as appointed investigator David Farrell.
April 2015, Merritt makes his first public statement:
“Merritt released a written, one-page statement to the media Friday asking the media, public and law enforcement to remember the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The statement read:
Four months after deciding on self-representation Merritt hired attorney Jimmy Mettias in May 2015. Mettias then formed Merritt’s first “Dream Team” consisting of attorneys: Jimmy Terrell, Sharon Brunner and David Askander, and Mettias himself.
Following Merritt’s preliminary hearing on June of 2015, Mettias and/or Terrell gave the following statements regarding the QuickBook oddities.
Just after San Bernardino District Attorney, Mike Ramos, announced that the DA’s office would be seeking the death penalty against Charles Merritt, Jimmy Mettias announced he would be tweeting parts of his defense ahead of trial. This amounted to approximately four to five tweets, most of which were written in defense of the act of tweeting a defense.
There was a short allusion to the money trail leading some place other than Merritt, and then…Radio Silence.
In August of 2015, Attorney Rajan Maline replaces Jimmy Terrell. All other members of the “Dream Team” remain the same, at this time. Defense attorneys Maline and Mettias file a motion to dismiss:
Six months later in January of 2016 there is another Merritt defense team upset. Merritt parts ways with all his attorneys, then briefly goes pro per for a second time, apparently in order to secure Rajan Maline as his attorney–sans the other members of the previous team.
Docket for February 2 & 11, 2016
In March 2016, Merritt succeeds in hiring Rajan Maline who is joined by former SBC district attorney James McGee.
In July of 2016 it is reported that there would be further additions to the Merritt defense team–
Present at the December 15, 2016, closed hearing, was an investigator not previously mentioned: Suzanne Serdahely. Media advisor, Robert Wallace, was also present at the December 15, 2016 hearing.
The Colonies Corruption case delayed People v. Merritt for about eight months, due to the fact that Judge Michael Smith presided over Colonies and Rajan Maline represented Colonies defendant Jim Erwin (acquitted).
Merritt’s new team has given little detail as to what their defense will be, come trial. Again, a substantial amount of defense expenditures appear to be for a company expert in computer and phone ping analysis–Elluma Discovery. The subpoenas, known to the public, are varied.
It’s hard to know at this point if the defense is stymied, or have discovered a loose thread in the state’s case and are prepared to pull hard.