The Lunch Meeting

DDA Britt Imes makes a strange claim in closing statements, which he repeats when interviewed for the Two Shallow Graves documentary. Imes bizarrely claims that there is no proof that Chase Merritt and Joseph McStay met for lunch on February 4th, 2010.

This suggestion is in contradiction to the state’s own narrative as well as the state’s interpretation of the cellular phone data.

The proof that Chase and Joseph met for lunch the Thursday prior to the McStay’s disappearance is in the very cellular phone data prosecutors relied on for every other major assertion they made. And the proof is also confirmed by where Chase’s DNA is discovered in the McStay Trooper.

Cellular phone data that prosecutors assert debunks Chase’s alibi for the evening of February 4th, and that they are certain places Chase at the McStay shallow graves on February 6, and that they explain shows Chase traveling back from the San Ysidro border on Monday the 8th, somehow becomes unreliable when these same exact phone records either support Chase’s claim of innocence or his claim that he had lunch with Joseph McStay at Chick fil-a in Rancho Cucamonga on Thursday, Feb. 4 2010 .

And, though there are questions as to the reliability of investigator’s interpretation of phone data on this case, prosecutors never questioned the validity of this data before closing statements at trial.

So, why does Imes suddenly question the validity of the phone records in closing statements?

The only reason I can think why Imes would question the occurrence of that Thursday lunch meeting-a meeting never in dispute before (and as mentioned, an intrinsic part of the state’s narrative for years)-is that in doing so, Imes is attempting to negate a very reasonable defense theory, the theory that Chase’s DNA got inside the McStay Trooper by way of transfer.

Transfer DNA is when touch DNA (skin cells) is left on an object not by the person whose DNA is later identified, but by another person who either had direct contact with the person in question, or touched an object that, that person touched–the agent of transfer lifting the skin cells onto their hands and then depositing skin cells, that are not their own, onto a surface. By the way, there is a great deal of science to support transfer DNA as a regular phenomenon.

Chase’s DNA in the McStay Trooper was found only in trace amounts*. And it was found only at a few isolated locations in the McStay Trooper. Locations consistent with DNA being transferred from Joseph McStay’s right hand after Joseph shook Chase’s hand (or even from contact with an object Chase had touched).

Very small traces of Chase’s DNA was discovered from a swab of the steering wheel and a combined swab that was taken from controls and the gear shift. If Chase’s DNA got to these locations indirectly, as in, Joseph transferred them after that lunch meeting, then nothing ties Chase to the moving of the Trooper to the San Ysidro border–from where it is towed in 2010 and retrieved by San Diego investigators during their 2010 investigation into the McStay disappearance. (And it was testified to by DNA expert Suzanna Ryan that anyone driving the Trooper the distance from, say, the McStay residence to the San Ysidro border–over an hour’s drive, would likely have left a lot more than trace DNA behind. And again, it is important to note that Chase was found to be only a minor and trace contributor to the DNA identified in the Trooper. He was not a major contributor, as Joseph was found to be.)

Someone driving the Trooper some distance would likely have left touch DNA (skin cells) all over the vehicle, and as the last person to drive that vehicle would likely have been a major contributor to the DNA found. Skin cells, which, again, touch DNA is derived from, are often left because of friction with an object. Chase’s DNA in trace amounts was left in locations more suggestive of Joseph having contact with Chase or something Chase touched first, followed by Joseph entering his vehicle and touching the controls and steering wheel, most likely with his right hand–important to note as well, Chase’s DNA was not found on the outside, driver-side door handle of the Trooper. It was as if Joseph and Chase did shake hands at the end of their lunch meeting (right hands). Then Joseph opened the car door with his left and touched the steering wheel and controls with his right hand–the same hand that had just lifted skin cells from Chase’s. There you go! As Defense Attorney McGee pointed out, this theory that Chase’s DNA was transferred by Joseph into the interior of the Trooper is much more consistent with the evidence, than the theory that Chase drove the Trooper anywhere.

But the hand shake is also something Imes, clearly wanted the jury to doubt-because a hand shake doesn’t jibe with the states theory that Joseph fired Chase that day. A hand shake indicates a friendly parting, business as usual. Not a hostile firing following accusations of theft.

In review:

Chase told investigators about this Feb 4 lunch meeting with Joseph during an interview with Detective Dugal on February 17, 2010–12 days after the McStays went missing–and 4 years before Chase could have known what the cell tower data analysis and DNA testing would reveal. (Examination of the cell tower data for Chase and DNA testing were not performed until 3-4 years after the family went missing and killed. It is only after the bodies were discovered in the Victorville desert that any thorough examination of evidence is conducted.)

After the arrest of Chase in 2014, investigators and prosecutors contended that it was at this February 4 lunch meeting that Joseph fired Chase, and that this firing is what incites Chase to murder his friend and that friend’s wife and children. And though cellular phone records don’t prove what was discussed at this lunch meeting, they do very much support Chase’s claim that a lunch meeting occurred.

On February 4, at around noon, cellular phone records track Joseph McStay departing Fallbrook and arriving to Rancho Cucamonga near to 1 PM. Joseph is on his phone enough during this journey to ping or connect with cell towers all the way north on I-15. These connections to cellular towers place Joseph easily in the vicinity of a the Chick Fil-a on Foothill Blvd. in Rancho Cucamonga–the fast food joint Chase told investigators in 2010, that he met Joseph for lunch. Chase’s cell connections to towers also place him in this area. There is no phone activity, or any evidence, that places either man at any other location, at this time.

At 3 PM that day, after 2 hours with no phone usage, Joseph McStay’s cell connects with towers consistent with him returning to Fallbrook. During the journey Joseph phones Chase 3 more times. Joseph arrives home a little after 4 PM. Computer forensics indicate Joseph signing onto his computer and opening a program called Sketch-Up>a software program that can be used to design structures, like the large water features or fountains that Joseph and Chase constructed together. At this time Joseph calls Chase. This call from Joseph to Chase is also in keeping with what Chase told investigators in 2010–that there was a question left unanswered at their lunch meeting, about a fountain. A question that could only be answered once Joseph was back at his computer.

Based on the cellular data, where else would Joseph have been between 1 and 3 that day? Where else would Chase have been?

Further to this, this weird debunking of the lunch meeting, places the state’s entire theory of the crime in question:

The state has always alleged that it is at this lunch meeting that Joseph fires Chase. If these two men did not meet, then when and where did this firing occur? During which brief phone call that day does Joseph fire Chase? Because all of the phone calls between the two on that day were very brief.

The phone calls between Joseph and Chase were so brief during the day of the 4th that all Joseph would have had time to do is yell into the phone, “You’re fired” and nothing more.

[Joseph McStay’s phone logs were not presented at trial. There was a cell tower analysis presented by FBI agent Kevin Boles, but the complete log of Joseph’s calls was not discussed. It’s possible that the jury had access to the logs, but there was no evidence presented during trial that would have necessarily drawn their attention to the logs. It seems likely that the logs were not a consideration for the jury when deliberating.These logs were published on-line during the time the McStays were only known to be missing. Three full months of calls were made publicly available. It is these logs that revealed what phone communication Chase and Joseph had in the three months prior to the family disappearing, and on February 4, 2010. The logs did not cover any time period after this day.]

And Joseph was rarely off of his phone during the day. The obvious explanation for Joseph’s two hour break in phone calls that day, is that Joseph paused his calls with clients to have lunch with Chase. Chase has a very similar “dark” period for his phone usage during this time.

Imes also introduces in closing (again for the very first time) the possibility that Joseph instead of meeting Chase for lunch, drove to meet Chase at a storage facility they shared in another city. It’s clear that what Imes is suggesting is that it is at this storage unit where Chase kills Joseph.

But there is no cellular data to support this. No eye witness. Nothing. This suggestion is beyond conjecture. IT IS COMPLETELY MADE UP. And it ignores the fact that cellular data analysis tracks Joseph McStay traveling back to Fallbrook, while calling Chase 3 times. For these calls Chase connects with towers consistent with his being home in Rancho Cucamonga.

Then, let’s not forget the computer activity occurring just at the time Joseph connects with towers consistent with his being home–Who other than Joseph would sign onto his computer, open Sketch-up–a program specific to his work with Chase, and then immediately phone Chase?

The inference Imes clearly is after, is that Chase killed Joseph at the storage locker. After this he drove Joseph’s vehicle back to Fallbrook, killing Summer and the children–which would help explain the absence of any sign of violence in that home. BIG hiccup here: How could Chase enter the McStay home, use the computer immediately upon entering, without Summer noticing? Not to mention signing into Joseph’s computer and opening a computer program that there is no evidence that Chase had any personal familiarity with?

Even more bizarre, Imes suggested in closing (again for the first time ever) that Joseph may have driven the McStay Dodge Ram truck rather than their Isuzu Trooper to that meeting (if there was a meeting).

Wait. What?

Clearly this is all nonsense. Just another attempt to negate transfer-DNA as a possible explanation for the trace amounts of Chase’s DNA found in the Trooper.

But here’s another big hiccup to this fiction: There is no evidence of Joseph driving the Dodge that day (or even that week). And the state never suggested this before the theory of transfer DNA messed with their big evidentiary reveal. Another fun fact is that the neighbor across the street had a surveillance camera. There is surveillance footage that could determine what vehicle left the McStay drive at around noon on February 4th!

The neighbor’s surveillance camera was still working during the day on Thursday the 4th (this camera would stop working at some time on the 5th and not work again until the 15th) It would not have been difficult to check the surveillance footage and determine which McStay vehicle departed the cul de sac that day. And yet, Imes never produces surveillance footage to support his new theory. He never produces cell phone records in support of this or any eye witness.

Imes cuckolds this theory from a fact that was brought up on-line during the trial. This regards the observation that child car seats were later discovered in the Trooper, when that vehicle was retrieved from the San Ysidro border parking lot on the 15th. This fact, again one apparently never considered before by the Imes or investigators, is what Imes points to as support for this brand new theory.

Imes states in closing that Joseph would not have left Summer with a vehicle absent child seats, and therefore, because the Trooper was discovered with child car seats in it when towed from the border, this “proves” that Joseph must have taken the Dodge Ram Truck on the 4th, not the Isuzu Trooper, to a meeting with Chase that Imes can’t make up his mind even occurred.

But the car seats could have been transferred from the Dodge to the Trooper after Joseph returns that Thursday afternoon of the 4th. In fact, this transfer of the car seats might support a theory put forward by both the defense and the prosecution: That the McStays were alive until Friday morning!

Perhaps Friday, February 5th, early morning and in preparation for a day trip of some kind, Summer and/or Joseph transferred the carseats. Rain was expected that Friday and the truck did not have a covered bed. Toys are found under a clothe in that back cargo area Trooper. It is unknown when those toys were placed in the Trooper.

There is the very real the possibility that a trip was made to the family storage unit the morning. It is uncertain where this storage facility was located. But it was not the same one Joseph shared with Chase for their water feature work. It was where the McStays kept the bulk of their furniture and belongings stored until renovations to their new home were complete.

Maybe toys kept at that facility were retrieved Friday in preparation for a delayed birthday party for Joseph Jr. who had turned three the week before, but had not yet had this milestone celebrated. It could well be that very early on that Friday morning, Joseph turned off his phone so that he could enjoy quality time with his boys. (The McStay family were known to go off grid, so this is not out of keeping with their habits or Joseph’s phone logs.) Joseph packed up his brood for an adventure and perhaps some exercise before the expected rain poured down that day. This not only would have allowed him to run a few errands, but would have afforded Summer the chance to finish her house painting. Summer had been anxious that entire week that the painting of the interior of the home had fallen behind schedule, and would delay the installation of new floors in the downstairs living quarters.

[For more on this theory, check out:]

Or the killers could have transferred the carseats. Who knows?

But in suggesting that the Dodge, rather than the Trooper was used by Joseph on the 4th, Imes ignores the DNA evidence discovered in the Trooper. Though no DNA swabs were taken from the Dodge Ram, results from swabs taken from the Trooper showed Summer’s DNA only in trace amounts.

Summer was documented shopping Thursday afternoon by way of her credit card usage. She had, to have driven to the Ross store she shopped at. If she had been left in Fallbrook with the Trooper, why doesn’t her DNA show up in greater quantities in the Trooper? Photos taken of Summer driving the children, at this time (see above), also, all depict Summer driving the Dodge Ram truck.

Imes also misrepresents another DNA related fact established at trial, that was surprising in how blatantly wrong his claim was. Imes claimed during trial, and in closing, that Chase’s DNA did not appear on the passenger side of the Trooper. But wait a minute! DNA analyst, Suzanna Ryan, testified at trial that she did locate Chase’s DNA, from swabs taken off the passenger side door.

Suzanna testified to this under oath, on the stand. Was Imes asleep? The obvious reason that perhaps Imes wanted this misconception to sink in, is that it negates Chase’s claim that the last time he’d been in the Trooper, he’d been a passenger.

If inconsistencies and false statements are what investigators look to, to establish whether a suspect is lying, then what are we to infer from the ever changing narratives put forward by DDA Imes?

Because it is hard to imagine that the prosecutor sitting first chair, doesn’t know these essential elements of his case. And this was a death penalty case! Imes doesn’t just keep changing the narrative at trial, he has altered his version of events on three different broadcasts about this trial, aired on national television.

With all these inconsistencies, how then do we rely on him?

Also! Once the lunch meeting is negated, where then is the motive?

The state’s claim for years was that upon being fired at this lunch, Chase is so enraged that just a few hours later he impulsively turns off his cell phone, gets into his truck and races from his home in Rancho Cucamonga to Fallbrook. Once there and without pause he bludgeons four people to death in record speed. But manages to leave no trace of the crime. No blood, whatsoever, was discovered in the McStay residence just days after they vanished.

Then just as speedily, this 56 year-old man departs with the entire brutalized family packaged away in his truck (which also had no blood in it anywhere when tested). But inexplicably returns nine minutes later to the McStay residence to draft a check on the McStay computer, a check that the state has shown from other evidence he could easily have drafted form another, safer location.

And this is where Imes clearly missed his calling as the next “Jackie Collins” of crime fiction: Imes strongly implies that Chase drove his truck down the street from the cul de sac, parked and then walked back to the McStay residence? (Chase could only have walked, because there is no video of a vehicle returning to the McStay home nine minutes after the “truck” caught on surveillance departs. There is also no footage of anyone walking through the cul de sac that night. And if you’d just killed four people in their home, why would anyone drive away and walk back to the scene of the crime–likely covered in blood? Chase wouldn’t have known whether the McStays were expecting guests that evening. Even if he knew Joseph’s schedule, he wouldn’t have known Summer’s.)

To add even more conjecture to this theory, according to prosecutors and investigators in the documentary, after Chase is thought to have driven down the street, and walked back to the McStay residence where he inexplicably drafts check he does not print, Chase then uses Joseph’s cell phone to make a fake call to himself.

Even if you speculate that Chase did all this to give the impression that the family was still alive, he could simply have made a call from Joseph’s phone while in his truck as he departed. He doesn’t have to return to the home to do this.

Also ignored in this fantasy of Imes is that the McStays lived in a cul de sac. This was a quiet residential neighborhood where no one but residents or guests would have any legitimate reason to be. The time was in the early evening. There was a neighborhood watch in place. I would suggest that a stranger meandering into the cul de sac, entering a home and then leaving on foot would stand out way more than a vehicle passing through. And McStay neighbors were returning from work around this time. There is video of other vehicles entering into that cul de sac.

This notion that a killer would park down the street from a the scene of a quadruple homicide, and return on foot, nine minutes after departing, is not only ludicrous but literally has zero evidentiary support. The more likely explanation is that at 7:59 the McStays are alive. The ordinary, mundane activity following the departure of this “truck” casts major doubt that the vehicle captured on the Mitchley surveillance video has anything, whatsoever, to do with this crime. The “truck” is more than likely a red herring left over from the early investigation when evidence was perhaps not as closely examined as it should have been.

And the cherry on the top of this fantastical work of pure fiction?! —

According to prosecutors, after all this whirlwind of activity, Chase doesn’t immediately find a location to bury the bodies. He keeps his four bloody victims in the cargo of his truck for two full days, until he finally drives to Victorville at noon–not midnight, not in the early hours of dawnbut noon!

And there in the open desert, in view of all the hectic Saturday traffic on I-15 (this was a major route from LA to Las Vegas), and in a location off-road riders were known to frequent, Chase digs two graves and buries four people–all while simultaneously on the phone with his “wife” and daughter.

Are you kidding me?!!!


[Evidence that supports that Chase did not steal any money from Joseph and was not fired that day was in what Joseph never does: Joseph doesn’t change the password to his QuickBooks account. Joseph does phone his bank that morning, but does not place a stop payment on any checks or alert the bank to fraud. If Joseph fired Chase for theft by way of fraudulent check writing, why would he call Chase on his way home and not the bank? Joseph doesn’t phone his father or a friend to share his ordeal of either contemplating firing a trusted employee, or having just done so. Joseph does not phone authorities. He also does not make contact with an alternate welder. (He and Chase had at least three major water features, due for shipment in just a few weeks.) If Chase is off the job, Joseph would have needed someone to finish the work.]