Exhaustive Seven-Hour Interrogation Did Not Elicit Confession From Merritt

By Mark Gutglueck
In what was potentially to be the penultimate round of testimony in the McStay family murder trial, the defense this week sought to spotlight how the case against the defendant now accused of the brutal slayings, Charles Merritt, is based on a haphazard, incomplete and sloppy analysis of the circumstances and evidence relating to the family’s disappearance and deaths, along with  the false investigative bravado of the law enforcement officers who tried but failed to bluff a confession out of the defendant.
Charles “Chase” Merritt, the prosecution maintains, driven by financial desperation that grew out of his unbridled gambling addiction and utter lack of fiscal discipline, engaged in a series of thefts from Earth Inspired Products, a company owned and operated by his business associate, Joseph McStay, Sr. Through that company, Joseph McStay was selling high end decorative water features – artificial waterfalls and fountains – which he and Merritt designed and which Merritt manufactured out of steel, glass, rock and other components based upon the specifications outlined by the company’s customers and passed along to Merritt by McStay. The prosecution’s theory, presented during the initial nine weeks of the trial that began on January 7 of this year, is that Merritt fraudulently obtained access to the QuickBooks accounting system McStay had set up for the Earth Inspired Products enterprise and on February 1 and February 2, 2010 wrote himself $7,495 worth of checks.
When he learned of what Merritt was up to, either shortly before or perhaps even on February 4, 2010, Joseph McStay traveled to Rancho Cucamonga, where Merritt was then living, and confronted him about his larceny, threatening to alert authorities, prosecutors allege. After Joseph McStay returned to the home he shared with his family in Fallbrook in north San Diego County, the prosecution’s theory continues, Merritt that evening drove to the McStay residence, where he slaughtered the McStays, using a three-pound sledgehammer to bash their skulls in.
Merritt then secreted the bodies for two days, in the meantime again fraudulently accessing Joseph McStay’s QuickBooks account for Earth Inspired Products, the prosecution maintains, and on February 4, 2010, February 5, 2010 and again on February 8, 2010 issued himself checks made out to himself for a total of $23,855.
On February 6, 2010, Merritt transported the corpses up into San Bernardino County’s High Desert, an area with which Merritt was familiar from having grown up in Hesperia where he attended Apple Valley High School for three years in the 1970s, according to prosecutors. There, in a remote area between Victorville and Oro Grande he buried all four of his victims along with the murder weapon in two six-foot long, two-foot wide and 18-inch deep graves he dug in a wash off a rarely-traveled dirt road, according to the prosecution. To confuse the situation, throw authorities off his track and delay a serious investigation into the matter, the prosecution maintains, Merritt then drove the McStay family’s 1996 Isuzu Trooper, which yet contained the child seats for Gianni and Joseph, Jr., to San Ysidro, where he left the vehicle in a shopping center parking lot roughly a quarter of a mile from the Mexican border.
The case put together against Merritt is an entirely circumstantial one built around what the prosecution maintains are fourteen critical “facts.” The facts consist of 1) Bank account withdrawals from ATM machines at a multitude of casinos coupled with cell phone records that show Chase Merritt frequented gaming houses on at least 73 occasions between February 2009 and February 2010, establishing that he had sustained substantial gambling losses that had driven him into a state of economic collapse; 2) evidence that the Earth Inspired Products business balance sheet showed that Merritt owed McStay $42,845 at the beginning of February 2010; 3) eight checks written to Chase Merritt on the Earth Inspired Products banking account totaling 31,350 on February 1,  February 2, February 4, February 5 and February 8, 2010 bore the peculiarity of the entire name of the payee, Charles Merritt, being lowercased, indicating they had been forged by Merritt; 4) the four checks written to Merritt on the Earth Inspired Products account on February 5 and February 8 totaling $23,855 were drafted after the family’s disappearance and backdated to February 4, indicating they had been forged by Merritt; 5) Joseph McStay traveled from Fallbrook to Rancho Cucamonga in the late morning to early early afternoon of February 4, 2010 to meet with Merritt before driving back to Fallbrook, which prosecutors maintain is an indication McStay confronted Merritt about the embezzlements from the Earth Inspired Products checking account; 6) Merritt’s cell phone records reflect that between a call at 5:48 pm on February 4, 2010 and another call at 9:32 pm on February 4, 2010, his cell phone was powered off such that his whereabouts based on the phone’s contact with cellular service towers cannot be ascertained, indicating he was purposefully evading any electronic tracking of his movements while he traveled from Rancho Cucamonga to Fallbrook when he murdered Joseph McStay and his family; 7) video footage from the security camera mounted on the porch of the home of Jennifer Mitchley living across and slightly up the street from the McStay home in the 3400 block of Avocado Vista Lane in Fallbrook at 7:47 pm on February 4, 2010 captured the image of a vehicle matching the characteristics of the 2000 Chevrolet 3500 pickup/utility truck conversion the Merritt was driving in 2010 coming out of the McStay residence driveway and heading away, an indication Merritt was, according to prosecutors, at the McStay home that evening; 8) an unanswered phone call made from Joseph McStay’s cell phone to Chase Merritt’s cell phone at 8:28 pm on February 4, 2010 – the last call ever placed from Joseph McStay’s never-found cellular device – which prosecutors say was the victim’s last desperate dying attempt to inform the world of who had killed him and his family; 9) National Weather Service records showing that there was 1.1 inches of rain in the Victorville area on February 6, 2010; 10) Merritt’s cell phone records showing that on February 6, 2010 between 11:30 am and 1:30 p.m Merritt made or received seven calls on his cell phone with his phone connecting to a cellular tower at the 4,522-foot elevation level on the side of a mountain in the Oro Grande area that was some 1.97 miles distant from the two shallow graves where the McStay family was buried, which prosecutors allege is a giveaway that Merritt had crudely interred his victims that day; 11) the existence of two separate sets of vehicle tracks leading to each of the graves, one with a lateral wheel-to-wheel width at the outer edge of the tires of 76 inches and the other with a lateral wheel-to-wheel width at the outer edge of the tires of 73 inches, the latter of which investigators and prosecutors maintain matches Merritt’s truck and thus places him at the graves on February 6, 2010; 12) phone calls made from Merritt’s cell phone on February 8 and February 9, 2010 to QuickBooks customer service representatives in which he sought to have the Earth Inspired Products on-line QuickBooks accounting system migrated over into an off-line desktop system and sought, unsuccessfully because he did not have Joseph McStay’s password, to have the Earth Inspired Products account data purged from the QuickBooks online data base, an indication, prosecutors say, that Merritt was seeking to cover his tracks in having forged the checks he had written to himself; 13) Merritt’s use of the past tense in several of his references to the McStay family when he was interviewed by two San Diego County Sheriff’s Department detectives, Troy DuGal and Suzanne Fiske, on February 17, 2010 when they were investigating the disappearance of the family as a multiple missing persons case, which prosecutors have characterized as a slip on Merritt’s part that betrays he knew the family was dead because its members had died at his hands; and 14)  trace levels of Merritt’s DNA found inside the McStay family Isuzu Trooper – on the steering wheel, gearshift and radio knobs – which the prosecution says supports the theory that Merritt on February 8, 2010 drove the vehicle to a shopping mall less than a half mile distant from the Mexican/American border in San Ysidro, where he abandoned it.
During the defense’s cross examination of witnesses during the prosecution’s phase of the trial and by the presentation of evidence and witnesses after the prosecution rested, the defense team of Raj Maline, James McGee and Jacob Guerard have shed considerable doubt on many of the crucial elements of the prosecution’s case.  A forensic accountant/auditor employed by the defense, Dennis Shogren, demonstrated there was a constant ebb and flow of money into the Earth Inspired Products account with both McStay and Merritt either owing one another money or being due money from the other at various times as project orders came in, were worked on and the final products were delivered to customers. The $42,845 that the prosecution claims was an arrearage owed by Merritt to McStay was related to the cancellation of two large artificial waterfall orders by two customers, including one who had stiffed the company for $34,000 owed on a completed project that both McStay and Merritt had agreed to split the loss on, Shogren showed. The eight checks written to Merritt in early February with the payee line entirely lowercased had been printed from a vendor registry on Joseph McStay’s QuickBooks accounting system that McStay had himself created, another expert hired by the defense, computer forensic analyst Bryan La Rock, testified, discrediting a key portion of the prosecution’s basis for asserting that Merritt had forged the checks.  The computer forensic analyst was able to retrieve data from the McStay family home computer showing that late in the afternoon of February 4, 2010, Joseph was engaged in designing a water feature using a three dimensional on-line drafting program while being simultaneously engaged in a phone conversation with Merritt, an indication there was still a cordial business relationship between them, contradicting the prosecution’s theory that McStay had just recently before caught Merritt embezzling from Earth Inspired Products. Merritt’s defense attorney, James McGee, during his cross examination of the prosecution’s cell phone expert, FBI Agent Kevin Boles, elicited an acknowledgment that the cell tower 1.92 miles from the grave site was at a significant altitude that made it a preferable cell phone link-up within a large expanse of the High Desert, and that each of the calls involving that cell tower and Merritt’s cell phone on February 6, 2010 ended with the call being routed through another cell tower in the area, an indication Merritt’s cell phone was not actually near the grave site as the prosecution alleged. McGee also wrung from Boles that cell phones periodically fail to make contact with cell towers even though they are fully functional and powered up, offering a possible explanation as to why Merritt’s cell phone appeared to have dropped off the grid during the evening of February 4, 2010. A state licensed investigator specializing in the enhancement and analysis of audio and video recordings as well as forensic photography, image analysis and forensic photogrammetry, Greg Stutchman, testified for the defense, saying that certain features of Merritt’s 2000 Chevrolet 3500 pickup/utility truck conversion excluded it from being the vehicle seen in the Mitchley video. The prosecution’s own expert witness called to link Merritt’s 2000 Chevrolet 3500 pickup/utility truck conversion to the image in the Mitchley video testified that the width of the tires on Merritt’s truck from outside to outside measured 71.5 inches, an inch-and-a-half less than the sheriff’s department reported, thus excluding it as either of the two vehicles with tire widths of 76 inches and 73 inches that left tracks at the McStay family grave site. San Diego Sheriff’s Detective Troy DuGal testified that in posing questions to Merritt during the February 17, 2010 interview, he and his colleague, Detective Suzanne Fiske, had used the past tense in relation to the McStay family, thus prompting Merritt’s past tense responses. Experts in the collection and evaluation of DNA evidence, including the former San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department crime lab technician and criminalist who testified for the prosecution, Don Smith, indicated that the trace amounts of Merritt’s DNA found inside the McStay family’s Isuzu Trooper were consistent with contact spread of DNA, and that the minute amounts of DNA on the steering wheel were not consistent with Merritt having actually driven the vehicle to the border at San Ysidro, as the prosecution has alleged.
In addition to knocking down several major propositions in the prosecution’s syllogism of Merritt’s guilt, the defense had also succeeded in propounding its alternate theory, one that holds that another of Joseph McStay’s business associates, Daniel Kavanaugh, had far greater motive to bring about Joseph McStay’s demise, including the introduction of evidence that six days after the disappearance of the McStay family, Kavanaugh had hacked into Joseph McStay’s PayPal account, changed the password and over the next ten months siphoned off more than $206,000 from Earth Inspired Products, including $126,000 from the Pay Pal account he had hacked.
Beginning on May 2, Merritt’s co-defense counsel, Raj Maline, sought to train his firepower on Sergeant Edward Bachman, who as a detective in 2013 and 2014 was assigned to the McStay family homicide case, eventually became the department’s “case agent” on the matter, responsible for compiling the “book” of investigative reports produced by the department’s investigators that was turned over to prosecutors who then used those investigative findings to construct the narrative of guilt for the prosecution of Merritt. Bachman, like virtually all of the investigators who worked the McStay family murders case, was rewarded with a promotion after Merritt was arrested and charged with the murders. As the trial has progressed and elements of the prosecution’s case have been demonstrated to be questionable or faulty, suggestions have surfaced that the investigators in the case bypassed or ignored evidence pointing in directions other than toward Merritt’s guilt, such that in a rush to judgment they made misrepresentations in their reports to implicate Merritt in ways that fall outside what the actual evidence showed, and in their testimony at trial have come painfully close to perjuring themselves to prevent the prospect of Merritt’s conviction slipping beyond the prosecution’s grasp.
Maline, who has been handicapped and burdened with a crushing caseload since late April when defense co-counsel Jim McGee fell ill, has carried forward with Merritt’s defense, aided by the assistance of the third member of Merritt’s defense team, Jacob Guerard. Maline has performed all of the direct examination of the defense witnesses called during the last three weeks of the trial, including those whom McGee had been prepared to question. Previously with Bachman on the stand, Maline had made substantial inroads against the prosecution’s case by showing that Bachman and other prosecutors failed to fully explore investigative leads, look into specific areas of the case relating to critical evidence, follow logical trails of deduction relating to evidence they had come across and either did not complete interviews with certain individuals, witnesses or alternate suspects or failed to follow certain specific lines of inquiry with witnesses or suspects they did interview.
This week, on the only day the jury was present, Monday May 13, Maline played for the jury 47 minutes of redacted passages from the videotaped interrogation Bachman and then-Detective and now Sergeant David Hanke conducted of Merritt on October 22, 2014, less than three weeks before Merritt was arrested and charged with the murders. Throughout what proved to be a highly, almost excruciatingly, repetitive barrage of questions, Bachman and Hanke made a virtually exhaustive use of interrogative techniques in attempting to overwhelm, intimidate, belittle, anger, outtalk, fool, anger, and scare Merritt to provoke from him a confession that he had murdered the McStay family. Utilizing facts and misstatements of fact, valid documentation, doctored documentation and fabricated documentation, innuendo, some accurate representations, misrepresentations, accurate information Merritt already possessed, accurate information Merritt did not possess, interpretations of data they showed that were both fair and alternately misleading, truth, half-truths, one third-truths, one-quarter truths and outright lies as well showing impatience, they banged on Merritt for seven hours, coming at him separately and in tandem. The detectives appealed to him to provide them with information needed to exonerate him and then launched accusations, both veiled and direct, shortly thereafter. When he provided them with assertions that did not meet their expectations, they contradicted his statements, either implying or stating he was lying. At no point did they succeed in breaking him, get anything approaching a confession from him or even a concession from him that he had been at either of two crucial locations within the timeframe that would later be central to the prosecution’s narrative of his guilt, the McStay family home on the day of February 4, 2010 or the site of the graves in the High Desert between Victorville and Oro Grande on February 6, 2010.
Judge Michael Smith told the jury before the video was played that law enforcement officers in their interrogations or questioning of suspects are at liberty to make misrepresentations in their statements and the framing of their questions. Judge Smith instructed the jurors that they should not consider any of the detectives’ statements or questions to be facts or evidence, and were to consider Merritt’s responses and reactions alone to be evidence, and accord that evidence whatever weight they deemed appropriate.
In the interrogation excerpts played on Monday, Bachman is heard pushing Merritt to acknowledge that he drove down to the McStay home in Fallbrook on February 4.
Detective Edward Bachman: Okay. At any point during the day on February 4th or any time – well, during the day at all on February 4th or evening or anything, do you go down to Joe and them’s house?
Charles Merritt: No.
Bachman thereafter pressed Merritt on that point, saying it was the case that after the family’s disappearance Merritt went to the McStay family’s house. Merritt resisted the suggestion that he had gone to Fallbrook on February 4, saying he at last went to the McStay family’s home on   what previous testimony has established was Saturday, February 13, 2010.
Merritt: I couldn’t get a hold of him. I think it was on a Saturday. I’m also positive. But, again, it’s been – it’s a little vague. But if it was that day, then I went… sometime in the middle of the day – I don’t remember exactly when I drove out. And I stopped at Joseph’s mom’s house said, ‘Have you heard, heard from Joseph? Haven’t seen him or haven’t been able to get a hold of him, and we’ve got some projects that we’re in the middle of. And I need to talk to him about this and that,’ you know. And she said that she hadn’t heard from him in a couple of weeks.
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt:  And I said, ‘Well, I need to get a hold of him. So, I’m heading out there. I’ll have him call you.’
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt:  And she called his brother. He said, ‘I haven’t talked to him in over a week.’ And so I said, ‘Well, I’m heading out there. I’ll have him give you a call or I’ll give you a call back.’
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt: Went out there. They weren’t there. But the dogs were in the backyard. So I fed the dogs. There was no water out for the dogs. So I put a pot underneath the faucet.
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt: And turned the faucet on just a little bit to have it continually drip. I filled it and then just let it drip in. And then I came back and called his mom and said, you know, the dogs were out with no food and no water. You know, that’s not Summer, because the big dog was Summer’s baby.
Bachman: Okay. So describe when you show up at Joe’s house, describe for me what you see.
Merritt: Front door was locked. Dog, when I pulled up, the dogs were barking…
Bachman: Uh-huh.
Merritt: …or the dog. The puppy wasn’t barking. The dog was barking. And the door was locked. So I went around to the backyard to look in the window. And the dogs were back there. Looked in the window. Couldn’t see Joseph, or anything. So I just, I fed the dogs. I ripped open the dog food bag, and because it was raining…
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt …or I think it was raining right then. But if it wasn’t raining then, it had been or was going to. But I knew that, I mean, it was going to be wet…
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt: …or whatever. And so I put the dog food inside the shed because he had it outside in a barrel. And I put the dog food inside in the shed and ripped open the bag, kind of made it so that they could eat. And then I put the pot under the faucet and turned it on and let it, let it drip. And I left. So that’s pretty much all I saw. I mean, it was wasn’t very much to see other than…
Bachman: How about their vehicles?
Merritt: His green truck was in the driveway.
Bachman: Okay. Where is it positioned in the driveway?
Merritt: I want to say like dead center. But I think it was maybe – I think it was to the left a little bit of center driveway.
Bachman incessantly returned to the day and night of February 4, insisting Merritt was there then. In doing so, Bachman did not so much ask questions but made assertions that were designed to be extremely awkward for Merritt to deny.
Bachman: Okay. At some point that night on February 4th, you end up down in Fallbrook.
Merritt: I ended up in Fallbrook?
Bachman: You ended up in Fallbrook.
Merritt: I wasn’t in Fallbrook, not on February 4th.
Bachman: You’re down there in Fallbrook on February 4th.
Merritt: Okay.
Bachman: Explain it, Chase. Okay? Because there’s got to be a reason. Okay? There, there’s got, all right, to be a reason. I’m asking you, man. And I’m asking for you to help explain what happened. Okay?
Merritt: I understand. I wasn’t in – I have no recollection of ever being in Fallbrook on the 4th.
Bachman: You were down there. Now, whether or not you were down there before the family was murdered or something – I mean, this something – I’m not saying, if you go down there, that you’re the one that did it.
Merritt: I…
Bachman: But you were down there at some point. Okay?
Merritt: I understand.
Bachman: I need to know what you were down there for. Did he forget to give you checks? Did he forget to do something? There’s a reason you went to Fallbrook. And I – we’re spinning our heads trying to figure out why you’re down there.
Merritt: I don’t remember being – going to Fallbrook. I don’t. I don’t. As a matter of fact, on February 4th, I don’t…
Bachman: I know you were in Fallbrook, Chase.
Merritt: There’s no chance that I was in Fallbrook.
Bachman: I’m telling you. I’m telling you straight up and we’re not lying to you. I know you were in Fallbrook on February 4th. Okay? All I want to know is what was the reason for it? I mean, if you went down there and you picked something up quickly, and you came back up, then it needs to be explained. Okay? Because it doesn’t look good. I mean, help us. Help us understand what the reason for going down there was. I know you guys talked all the time. I know that you said yourself, you went down there a handful of times. So what would you go down there for?
Merritt: Well, the only thing I ever went to Fallbrook for is to socialize with Joseph or do business with him. I mean, those are the only two things.
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt: On February 4th, I don’t think I was down there.
Bachman: February 4th I know you were down there.
Merritt: In fact, I’m quite sure I wasn’t down there. I think I would have remembered that day going to Fallbrook.
Bachman: I think – and part of it, I think, is that you don’t want to be lumped into this. Okay? And you’re concerned…
Merritt: I don’t want to be lumped into it.
Bachman: But you’re already in it. That’s what we’re doing. You have to explain what you were doing down there because you were down there. All right? There’s no contesting that whatsoever. You were down there. Okay? What I need you to do is help me understand what you were down there for. Okay? If you’re telling me that you didn’t kill them, then why…
Merritt: Of course not.
Bachman: …why were you down there? Because you went to that house that night.
Merritt: I don’t remember going to the house that night. As a matter of fact, I would…
Bachman: Think.
Merritt: …just about bet my – in fact, I am betting my – life. I would bet my life that I was not there on the 4th.
Bachman: Think about it, Chase.
Merritt: I did not go to Fallbrook on the…
Bachman: Okay. Think about it. What was the reason for going down there? All right? I don’t want to hear that you weren’t down there, because I know you were down there. Okay?
Merritt: I had no reason to go to Fallbrook. I had none.
Bachman: Was there a check that you had to pick Up? Was there something you had to do?
Merritt: We did that when he was, when he…
Bachman: We know you didn’t do that when you were there. I mean, unless he…
Merritt: He got – we did that when he was there. He gave me checks when he was there.
Merritt’s reference to “there” is Rancho Cucamonga, where Joseph had driven earlier in the day to meet him and provide him with checks needed for the completion of a project Earth Inspired Products was working on.
Bachman: Okay. You went down there for something else. Did you have to go drop something back off to him? Did you have to, I mean…
Merritt:  I have no reason.
Bachman: There’s got to be something. Were you not able to get a hold of Joseph and decided to go check on him to make sure he was okay? I mean…
Merritt: No.
Bachman: For some reason you went down there that night. I mean this. We’re trying to give you the opportunity to help us understand why you went down there.
Merritt: I understand. I understand you fully think that I was in Fallbrook that night, but I…
Bachman: I know for a fact you were in Fallbrook that night.
Merritt: I don’t recall being there.
Bachman: There’s a difference between thinking and there’s a difference between knowing. I know you were in Fallbrook that night, Chase.
Merritt: Okay. Well, I – I don’t recall being there. I have no clue as to any reason that I would be going there. I just talked to him at lunchtime. There was no reason for me to go to Fallbrook.
Bachman: Okay. February 5th, you said you don’t really remember. You think it was just a normal mundane day. You went about your work and all this and that. Normal, normal day. Try to get a hold of Joseph. Can’t get a hold of him. No big deal, right?
Merritt: Uh-huh.
Bachman then moved onto another element of the investigation that has turned out to be crucial to the case, that pertaining to the burial of the McStay family bodies in the desert, and establishing that Merritt was the one who had buried them.
Bachman: Okay. February 6th, jump forward two days now. Where did you go February 6th?
Merritt: I don’t remember.
Bachman: Why would people put you up in the High Desert on February 6th?
Merritt: No idea. The only reason I’d ever go to the High Desert is for my brother or my sister.
Bachman: Where would you have gone that day? February 6th, that’s a pretty good – I mean, this this is two days after your friend is missing.
Merritt: Well, where would I go if I went to the desert?
Bachman: Right.
Merritt: I would either go to my older brother’s or my older sister’s.
Bachman: Where is that?
Merritt: One’s in Hesperia. One’s in Oro Grande.
Bachman: Okay. Where at – where at in Hesperia?
Merritt: On – just off of Hesperia Road and Third.
Bachman: Okay. And then where is the other one in Oro Grande?
Merritt: Off of the old Highway 66.
Bachman: Okay. February 6th, go back to what did I just tell you we got of yours? What was I just asking about?
Merritt: Phone records.
Bachman: Okay. Where do your phone records show you’re at on February 6th?
Merritt: I have no clue.
Bachman: High Desert.
Merritt: Okay.
Bachman: Where at in the High Desert, do you think?
Merritt: Either Hesperia and Third or in Oro Grande. Those would be the only two places.
Bachman: No.
Merritt: That would be the only two places.
Bachman: Chase, you know where you’re at on February 6th. What do you think would be just a shot in the dark where your phone would show you at?
Merritt: Well, if I went to the desert – and I don’t recall going to the desert on February 6th – but if I went there, it would be Oro Grande or Hesperia.
Bachman: It wasn’t either one of those places.
Merritt: Okay.
Bachman: If you had to take a shot in the dark, where else would you be, Chase?
Merritt: That would be it. That would be the only two places I…
Bachman: What are the key – where is a key area in the High Desert that we’ve discussed?
Merritt: What do you mean?
Bachman: What’s a key area that this whole case involves in the High Desert?
Merritt: Where Joseph was buried, you mean?
Bachman: Where is that at?
Merritt: Off of Dale Evans Road.
Bachman: It’s actually Stoddard Wells.
Merritt: Okay.
Bachman: Okay. Why would your phone show you at the grave site on February 6th?
Merritt: Not possible. I wasn’t there.
Bachman: Why would your phone records show you were there?
Merritt: Couldn’t have.
Bachman: Oh, they do.
Merritt: They couldn’t have.
Bachman: Your phone records show you there. That’s why I’m asking.
Merritt: I wasn’t there. Only time I ever went to that place was several weeks later when – or a few weeks later where I went out – first by myself and then went out with my girlfriend’s daughter.
Bachman: A few weeks after they went missing?
Merritt: No. No. After they were – after the grave sites were found.
Bachman: Okay. I don’t understand why they would show that. Why would they show you up in that area?
Merritt: I don’t see how they could, because the only two places I would have been out in the desert, in the entire desert, is at my sister’s.
Bachman: It shows you out there, Chase. That’s why I’m asking. I’m trying to help. Help us figure this all out.
Merritt: It’s impossible.
Bachman: Well, per the phone records and they are engineers that do all this whiz-bang stuff, that are way more educated than you and I are.
Merritt: If that’s the case, then, okay. You will find that it’s impossible that I was there, because there’s no way I was there.
Bachman: We have one of those whiz-bang engineers that’s telling us that you’re out there at the graves on February 6th.
Merritt: Then he needs to look again because I wasn’t there. If I went to the desert I don’t remember going to the desert that week. I don’t remember going to the desert at all. But if I went there, it would be in Oro Grande with my sister, because her and I – I was semi taking care of her off and on, or at my older brother’s in Hesperia off Third.
Bachman: It doesn’t show either one of those houses.
Merritt: That would be the only two places I would go up there.
Bachman: So I’m trying to figure out now on February 4th why you would be down in Fallbrook. And that’s what I’m saying. Maybe it’s just a shot in the dark that you went down there to grab something, or whatever. Now, on February 6th this guy is telling me that your phone shows that you’re up there in that area. Now, these are either some pretty good coincidences, or you just have terrible luck, one of the two.
Merritt: Well, I don’t – I don’t think that I was in Fallbrook. And I know that I wasn’t at the grave site.
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt: There’s no way.
Bachman: Okay. Why do you think…
Merritt: I wasn’t in Fallbrook.
Bachman: Because I know for a fact you were in Fallbrook.
Merritt: Why do I think I was in Fallbrook…
Bachman: Yeah.
Merritt: …or wasn’t in Fallbrook?
Bachman: Start with that.
Merritt: Because I would remember going to Fallbrook on the 4th after Joseph left me. I would have remembered that. Did I remember? Was the rest of the day vague because it was just kind of a day? Yeah. But I would have remembered getting in my car, driving all the way to Fallbrook – excuse me – Fallbrook and back. That’s a long drive.
Bachman: You’re in Fallbrook. There’s no discrediting that. All right?
Merritt: Well, I was also at the grave site, but – and you said there’s no discrediting that.
Bachman: That’s completely – completely – different.
Merritt: But that’s – it’s one and the same. I wasn’t at either one. So, you know, you’re saying –
Bachman: Fallbrook – Fallbrook, I know you were there. And that’s completely phone records aside. Okay? That’s why I’m trying to help – ask you to help me explain this.
Merritt: No idea.
Bachman: February 4th, you’re down in Fallbrook, Chase.
Merritt: I…
Bachman: You’re – you’re presumably the last person that sees them at their residence.
Merritt: At their residence?
Bachman: Yeah.
Merritt: I don’t – I wasn’t in Fallbrook, not on February 4th.
Bachman: You were in Fallbrook on February 4th.
Merritt: Well, I don’t remember being in Fallbrook on February 4.
Bachman: You may have chose to block that out.
Merritt: Later on, later on, days later, yeah, I went there. But…
Bachman: I think that you may have chose to block portions of it out. I… And I don’t know if it’s because it’s… it’s terrible memories, or what it is, but…
Merritt: I don’t block things out. I don’t have the best of memories, but I would remember going to Fallbrook.
Bachman: I mean, I know that you’re down there on the 4th. There’s no doubt that you’re down there on the 4th. So now either, like I said, you had something to do with it or you were there just prior to. And maybe people waited for you to leave and then they went in and did this. But you’re there on the 4th. Why were you there on the 4th, Chase?
Merritt: I don’t remember being there on the 4th. I don’t think I was there on the 4th. I am 98 percent positive that if I drove all the way down to Fallbrook on the 4th, I would remember.
Bachman: I know you drove down to Fallbrook on the 4th.
Merritt: Well, I sure as hell don’t remember being in Fallbrook on the 4th. I remember being there…
Bachman: There’s…
Merritt: …days before and days after, but not on…
Bachman: There’s plenty of different things that catch people that travel all over the road. License plate readers, there’s different stuff. You pass through all kinds of different stuff on the way down there. And like I say, there is no shortage of stuff that we’ve done on this case. We’ve looked into every outlet possible.
Merritt: I understand.
Bachman:  I’m telling you, you were in Fallbrook on February 4th, 2010.
Merritt: Okay.
Bachman:  I’m asking you why.
Merritt: I don’t remember being there, so I – I don’t recall driving there. I don’t think I was there.
Bachman: Do you have memory problems?
Merritt: No, none.
Bachman: And then you – There’s other stuff that we’ve talked about and you remember –
Merritt: That’s five-and-a-half – we’re talking five-and-a-half years ago.
Bachman: We’ve sat here and talked to you the entire time. And there’s plenty of stuff that you can remember way past then that you could remember with –  I mean, you could remember minimal details.
Merritt: Some things you remember. Some things you don’t. You know, I…
Bachman: But he was your best friend.
Merritt: I remember most of the…
Bachman: Your best friend…
Merritt: …day on February 4th.
Bachman: …goes missing and is murdered on February 4th, 2010. And you’re telling me you cannot remember that night?
Merritt: No. I said, to the best of my recollection. I know that I would have known that I was in Fallbrook.
Bachman: You were in Fallbrook.
Merritt: I…
Bachman: Why? Why?
Merritt: …don’t remember being in Fallbrook. I did not – I’m pretty – matter of fact, I am positive…
Bachman: I’m positive that you were in Fallbrook.
Merritt: …I did not drive to Fallbrook.
Bachman: Okay. Who drove you to Fallbrook then? Because you’ve already said yourself you don’t drive all the time. So somebody took you down to Fallbrook.
Merritt: Nobody drove me to Fallbrook. Back then I was driving most of the time.
Bachman:  Okay. You were in Fallbrook on February 4th.
Merritt: Okay.
Bachman: I’m asking you why, Chase. This is one of the most important days of your life right now. We’re trying to help figure this all out. That’s why I – we’ve – asked you to come here. We’ve asked you to help us figure this all out, because you are a key piece of this puzzle that helps put this all together.
Merritt: I understand. And that’s why I’m here and cooperating and…
Bachman: So why were you down in Fallbrook on February 4th?
Merritt: I don’t think I was there on February 4th.
Bachman: I know you were there.
Merritt: As a matter of fact…
Bachman: The surveillance video, this entire time, the surveillance video that they – [San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Detective Troy] DuGal seems to – everyone seems to – think is a Trooper, that’s not the [Isuzu] Trooper. That’s your vehicle leaving the McStays’ house.
Merritt: Okay.
Bachman: That is your vehicle, no ifs, ands or buts.
Merritt: All right.
Bachman: Okay. Why is your vehicle leaving the McStays’ house on February 4th, 2010?
Merritt: I don’t think it was.
Bachman: It was. Oh, it was. There’s no doubt about that whatsoever.
Merritt: Okay. I don’t know what to say. I… Well, I don’t remember driving down there on the 4th.
Bachman: That’s your car.
Merritt: I would not, I have, no reason to be there, on the 4th. I have no reason whatsoever.
Bachman: Why? I mean, why? See, now is the time, Chase. Help us understand.
Merritt: I don’t know why. I have no clue.
Bachman: Your your truck is on video. It’s on video leaving the McStays’ house. This key video that everyone says is the Trooper. That’s not the Trooper. I – we’ve – studied your your stuff in and out. Okay? In and out. That is your vehicle leaving that house that night.
Merritt: I don’t know what to say. I – I can’t. I don’t see how it could be, not on February 4th.
Bachman: The video there shows your vehicle backed in the driveway, shows your vehicle leaving there. I mean, dude, like I said, we have done everything with this case, enhanced videos, done all kinds of stuff, recontacted neighbors, pulled all kinds of surveillance, pulled plates, pulled everything out. We have pulled, there is no stops that have not been pulled for this. Okay? Your vehicle is leaving that house that night. I need you to tell me why.
Merritt: I don’t. If I remembered being there, I would say this is the reason. But I don’t.
Bachman: You were there. And your wife or your girlfriend Cathy is trying to get a hold of you the entire time while you’re there, trying to get a hold of you the complete, entire time.
Merritt: I don’t recall being there. So I don’t know.
Bachman: So, I know you’re not at home because she’s at home. Her phone records show her at home. Your phone records don’t show you at home.
Merritt: So where do my phone records show me?
Bachman: Fallbrook.
Merritt: No.
Bachman: Your vehicle is on video surveillance leaving the residence. So why? What was your purpose for going down there? I mean…
Merritt: I had no purpose to go down there. I had none. I had no reason to be there. I had no reason to. I had no reason.
Bachman: Something prompted you. You get a phone call at 5:48. And then you leave your house. And for that time period, Cathy is trying to get a hold of you nonstop. She’s trying to get a hold of you nonstop.
Merritt: At 5:48?
Bachman: Yeah.
Merritt: Almost six o’clock?
Bachman: She’s trying to get a hold of you nonstop.
Merritt: Okay.
Bachman: You’re not answering. Your vehicle is down in Fallbrook. You’re down in Fallbrook.
Merritt:  When am I am supposedly in Fallbrook?
Bachman: This entire time after that.
Merritt: After 5:48?
Bachman: Yeah.
Merritt: But I got a phone call at at home in – at 5:48.
Bachman: You get a phone call at home at 5:48. I’ve already told you that that’s already been disproven.
Merritt: I’m – I’m totally confused.
Bachman: That phone call that everyone says is the phone call that came through while you guys are at the house, that’s not – that phone call didn’t happen. We have his [Joseph McStay’s] records. Yeah. He dialed your phone number. But you weren’t at home when you got that phone call.
Merritt: Okay. Where was I?
Bachman: Where do you think you were, Chase?
Merritt: I…
Bachman: We just talked about it for the last 30, 40 minutes.
Merritt: I wasn’t in Fallbrook.
Bachman: You were in Fallbrook.
Merritt: Not possible.
Bachman: It is possible. It’s very possible. It happened. That’s why I’m asking you to explain.
Merritt: If I could explain it, I would. It’s not possible. The truth is, whether you want to hear it or not, I did not drive to Fallbrook on the 4th.
Bachman: You did drive to Fallbrook on the 4th. You were down there in Fallbrook on the 4th.
Merritt: What you’re saying, obviously, is not going to change. What I’m saying definitely is not going to change because I would remember driving to Fallbrook on the 4th.
Detective Daniel Hanke then took up the torch, seeking to maneuver Merritt toward an admission.
Detective Daniel Hanke: Okay. Whether you went back down to Fallbrook because, Chase, that’s the thing you’re not understanding. When you say, ‘I don’t recall being in Fallbrook,’ we have you on video at the house. Okay? And you have to explain that. I’m trying to give – You need to give me something that makes sense that I can say, this is why Chase was at the house. Because whether you guys argued at Chick-fil-A, whether you guys did get checks, whether you had, still had some other issues…
Merritt: We didn’t argue at Chick-fil-A.
Hanke: …you went down to Fallbrook, and we know that. Okay? You’re at Fallbrook and your truck is at Fallbrook pulling out of the driveway, Chase. It’s backed into the driveway, and it pulls out. Okay? So you have to explain that to me. There has to be some explanation of why.
Merritt: If I had an explanation as to why you’re saying my truck is there, I have no clue. Because if I remembered or if I could remember being there on the 4th, I would tell you. I wasn’t there on the 4th.
Hanke: Here’s the thing. We don’t have to deal with recollection. We don’t have to deal with memory. Okay? We have videotape…
Merritt: Okay.
Hanke: …okay? With time stamps. So we don’t have to worry about memory. We’re not talking about that. We have video of your truck leaving the McStay house on February 4th, 2010, in the evening.
Merritt: Okay.
Hanke: You’re telling us that you weren’t there. So, how do I explain your vehicle leaving the McStay house? You have to think about this. You’re smack dab in the middle of a murder investigation involving this family. And you’re going to have to explain why your vehicle was there.
Merritt: I can’t. Because I don’t think it was there, so I…
Hanke: But it was. It was there. And you’re not getting the point I’m trying to make. There’s a murder investigation.
Merritt: I understand.
Hanke: And you’re not giving us the total truth. You’re not giving us the truth, the full truth. And what you’re doing is, you’re digging a hole for yourself. Okay? And you’re digging straight down. You keep digging that hole. You can use that shovel to keep digging and get farther and farther down, or you can use that shovel, prop it up on the side and help yourself climb out. There has to be some explanation why your truck was there.
Merritt: Joseph and I did not argue that day, not about a $2,500 check, not about anything.
Hanke: Why is your truck…
Merritt: We did not argue.
Hanke: Why is your truck at the house?
Merritt: Don’t know. Okay. If – There’s no possible way that I can think of that my truck was there on the 4th.
Hanke: Did you let somebody borrow your truck, Chase?
Merritt: No. No.
Hanke: Did anybody else have access to your vehicle?
Merritt: No.
Hanke: Anybody else drive your truck down there?
Merritt: No. My truck was parked at my house. I’ve done what I can. I’ve done what I can do. I’ve told you to the best of my recollection, I don’t think that it’s at all possible. I understand you’re saying that my truck was there. I don’t think it’s at all possible that that’s the case. I’m not going to argue back and forth with it. That is – I don’t see where it’s possible. I don’t see where it’s possible.  Matter of fact, I know I know for a fact that it’s not possible that I was at the grave site on…
Hanke: Well, you were in the desert. And you’re also at Fallbrook. And we talked about it. Is that just some coincidence? I mean, it sounds like a crazy coincidence. I mean, you know. And it doesn’t make sense to me how this family is murdered on the 4th, your vehicle is seen on the 4th. You’re the last person to talk to Joseph. There’s vehicle tracks matching exactly your truck at the grave site. Two days after they’re murdered.
Merritt: I’m quite sure they match exactly a lot of trucks.
Hanke: Well…
Merritt: But…
Hanke: Okay. But a lot of truck drivers don’t also have their phone showing in that same area. Okay? So…
Merritt: My phone did not show in that area because I wasn’t there.
Hanke: Okay. And you said that. You said that. That’s fine. But we have a lot of things we can show you on some of these records. We could show you, again, we have a lot of things. And we’re trying to give you the opportunity to explain it, and you’re not doing a good job doing that. You’re not explaining any of these things. And that picture, that puzzle that we’ve been building for four-and-a-half years shows one puzzle. You’re the only person not fitting in that puzzle. Whether you’re lying intentionally or whether you’re trying to say you forgot, whether you’re trying to block it out, whatever the issue is, whatever the issues are, there’s something, okay, you haven’t given us.
Merritt: Well, I don’t know what you know. You’re throwing these things at me like they’re facts…
Hanke: They are facts, Chase.
Merritt: …and I don’t recollect being there. Matter of fact, I wasn’t there. And I definitely wasn’t at the desert. And I don’t know what to say other than that. I mean, what do you want me to tell you?
At that point, Bachman leapt back into the fray.
Bachman: What was your phone number at the time, Chase?
Merritt: I don’t remember.
Bachman: 909-374-0102, does that sound familiar?
Merritt: Probably.
Bachman then displayed for Merritt copies of his cell phone records from February 2010.
Bachman: Okay. These highlighted portions right here, those are all – these all come back with your coordinates, GPS coordinates of where you’re at. That’s where the grave site is at. Okay. There’s a series of phone calls that are made right there that are out at the grave site. I’m not bullshitting you, Chase. You get a series of phone calls from different people while you’re out there at the grave site. What we want to know is what you’re doing out there, Chase. I mean, are you out there burying four bodies?
Merritt: I don’t know what to tell you. I wasn’t there. That – I have no idea what those coordinates are. But it’s not…
Bachman: Were you out there burying four bodies, Chase?
Merritt: Of course not. No. Of course not.
Bachman: Why is your phone showing you in that area?
Merritt: I wasn’t in that area.
Bachman: Why does your phone show you’re out in that area?
Merritt: I have no clue. But that’s wrong. I wasn’t there. There is no way possible.
Bachman: We’re not – I’m not – I’m not bullshitting you. Okay?
Merritt: The first time I was ever anywhere near that area, ever in my entire life, was the first time I went and saw the cross – or the crosses, the very first time I ever went there.
Bachman: I’m trying to figure out why these would show out there in the graves, out there at the graves, why we have other stuff down there on the 4th. I mean, help us understand, Chase.
Merritt: I don’t – I can’t help you understand something that I don’t understand myself, because that’s not possible.
Bachman: Well, this is possible.
Merritt: It’s not. It’s impossible.
Bachman: And here’s why: Do you remember what Cathy’s phone number was back at that time?
Merritt: No.
Bachman: Okay. Does 909-226-1191 sound familiar?
Merritt: Sounds familiar.
Bachman: Okay. Well, there’s a series of phone calls from your phone to her phone and back and forth. 909-374-8951, I think that’s Taylor’s phone at the time.
Merritt: Maybe.
Taylor is Merritt’s daughter.
Bachman: Okay. There’s a phone call to her – or between you and her while you’re out there. So, I mean, it’s not somebody else’s phone. It’s your phone.
Merritt: Oh, I’m not arguing the fact that it’s my phone. But I’m telling you, my phone and I was not at – is not where you’re saying
Bachman: What were you doing in the desert then? If you’re not, if that’s not you at the grave sites, what were you doing in the desert?
Merritt: If I was in the desert, there was two places I would have been. Either my older sister’s in Oro Grande or my brother’s.
Bachman: Okay. The 4th. 1 asked you to think about that.
Merritt: I can’t think of any explanation, because 1 don’t recall ever driving down there. And I think that if I drove down there, especially on the 4th, I would remember it.
Bachman: Is it possible – because I’m telling you we have video – is it possible that you went down there and you don’t remember?
Merritt: I don’t think so. 1 don’t think it’s at all possible.
Bachman: Okay. So nobody borrowed your truck?
Merritt: No. Nobody would have borrowed my truck.
Bachman: Nobody borrowed your phone?
Merritt: No, definitely not.
Bachman: Your records don’t show you’re still there at the house, so –
Merritt: Excuse me.
Bachman: I mean, is there any – that’s why I’m saying, if there’s something, some reason that you went down there that you don’t remember?
Merritt: Not at all. I apologize. But not at all.
Bachman: I’m trying to have you explain what happened that night to clarify your half of it.
Merritt: If I could – if I could tell you that I went down there for any specific reason, I would. But on the 4th, I don’t see how I could have been there.
Bachman: Well, I do. That’s…
Merritt: Okay. I understand. Believe me. I understand. I understand. And I was sitting here thinking, how would, if you’re telling me the truth, because, I mean, obviously, and not to say you’re a liar, or anything, but you’re trying to get to the truth.
Bachman: Right.
Merritt: And I understand. It doesn’t make any difference what means is necessary. You need to use them to get to, to find the truth. I understand that. But with that said, if you are telling me the truth and there is a video of my truck being there, okay. I was, when you were gone, you asked me to think about it.
Bachman: Right.
Merritt: And I was thinking about it. I was thinking, you know, how, how the fuck could that be? And it doesn’t make any sense. And I was just thinking, you know, I was like, well, you know, possibly the only explanation I can come – I could figure out, possibly, and I have because I have no idea how videos work. I have no clue. But the only possibility that I could think of: possibly, the time stamp could be wrong.
Bachman: The time stamp is not wrong.
Merritt: Okay. You understand videos better than I do. Because I have no idea.
Bachman: Right.
Merritt: I just – But other than that, I have no clue.
Bachman: Well, I can assure you and I know that that’s a lot of times a tactic that people believe that cops use. And that is a tactic I’m sure that’s used to lie and…
Merritt: Of course. Yeah. And I don’t – trust me I would never – hold it against you. You’re trying to get to the truth. I understand.
Bachman: These deals that we’re talking about, about the phone records and about the video surveillance and stuff like that, I can assure you, Chase, that I am not lying about that. You have my word that that is not a lie. It is not a lie whatsoever. Okay? That’s why I’m trying to get you to explain to me what your truck’s doing down there. Okay?
Merritt: Okay.
Bachman: And…
Merritt: No clue.  I don’t remember being there. I don’t believe I was there. And as far as being anywhere near where Joseph was buried before the time that I went out there and went to the cross, it’s impossible. Because that was the very first time I had ever been anywhere remotely in that area.
Bachman: Do you go out there and – is it a dry…
Merritt: Dry wash?
Bachman: Dry wash?
Merritt: No. No.
Bachman: That’s not an area that you would go dry wash.
Dry washing is a method of gold prospecting that makes use of dry washers. Dry washers are devices invented by Thomas Edison used to separate gold from lighter material without the use of water, utilizing a regulated air flow, which blows off lighter material and allows the gold to settle.
Merritt: Oh, hell, no. I’m quite sure there’s no gold in that area.
Bachman: Do you go to the Victorville dump out there?
Merritt: No. No. I have no reason to go to the dump. I don’t live there. I’ve never even been to the Victorville dump.
Bachman: And that’s another thing that I’m telling you, that that’s not another thing that I’m giving you that’s bullshit. Okay? That’s not bullshit. It’s a fact.
Merritt: It’s impossible. If you’re saying it was my phone, it’s absolutely impossible for my phone to be there. It’s impossible because…
Bachman: I can only go off of the… .
Merritt: My phone only went where I went…
Bachman: …information that AT&T gives me. Okay? I can only go off of that. And I give it to somebody, like I said, who’s much more educated than I am, as far as plotting and doing all that stuff.
Merritt: Right. Well, keep in mind —
Bachman: I mean, his coordinates are out there.
Merritt: You know where my sister lives, right?
Bachman: I do.
Merritt: Okay. You know that it’s directly over the mountain.
Bachman: Well, are you talking about, okay, where she lives now, or where she lived…
Merritt: In Oro Grande.
Bachman: Okay. I think she lives somewhere else now, right?
Merritt: Out in Apple Valley.
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt: Yeah.
Bachman: So you’re talking about the other house?
Merritt: The other house in Oro Grande.
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt: Do you know where that is?
Bachman: Yeah.
Merritt: Okay. That’s directly over the mountain from the grave site.
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt: I don’t know how many miles. It’s quite a few miles, I’m sure. I mean, it’s, by the way the crows fly, I wouldn’t guess more than five miles, maybe. I don’t know.
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt: It couldn’t be too far. It’s completely different directions to get there. You can’t really get there from my sister’s house unless…
Bachman: When we started this out, and I asked you, on February 5th – or I asked you for the week of – ‘After that they went missing, were you in the High Desert at all?’ And you said, ‘Oh, absolutely not.’
Merritt: I don’t think so.
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt: But if there’s any chance that I was on the desert, it was either at my sister’s or my brother’s.
Bachman: Okay. And at that time your sister lived out on National Trails?
Merritt: Yeah, of course.
Bachman: And then whose house is that?
Merritt: Jim. Jim. Well, she lives there. She had half of the property, and she lived on – in – a motor home – or a double-wide trailer there.
Bachman: Okay. So there is a chance that you could have been up in Oro Grande on the 6th.
Merritt: Oh, there’s a chance that I was in Oro Grande, but there’s no chance I was anywhere near that grave site…
Bachman: And the reason I ask is if…
Merritt: …whatsoever.
Bachman:  …if there’s a chance that you’re up in the desert, the way that the cell phone towers work funny. Like you can tell when you look at this engineer guy, he can look at it and he can go, ‘Oh, no, this phone was over in this area. It wasn’t over off this area.’
Merritt: Yeah, of course.
Bachman: That’s what I’m asking, like if you, if there’s a chance you were up in the area and say that says, but I’ll go back to him and see what he…
Merritt: You should go back to him, because in Oro Grande, I mean Oro Grande is probably – I don’t know how many miles it would be. But it’s not that far from – I would say…
Bachman: I know how far it is.
Merritt: …as the crow flies – okay.
Bachman: Yeah.
Merritt: Okay. It’s, by the way the crow flies – what? – five, six miles?
Bachman: Right around.
Merritt: Yeah, somewhere around there. I don’t – but you really can’t get there from my sister’s unless you go down the freeway, you go all the way to the freeway, I believe, and then around the mountain.
Bachman: Could you get there, like, are there back roads that you would be able to get…
Merritt: Oh, there’s a lot of – I’m assuming there’s got to be  – back roads to Oro Grande.
There’s a lot of gold prospecting and stuff in Oro Grande.
Bachman: Okay.
Merritt: But it’s on this side of the mountain. And that’s a very large mountain.
Bachman: So on the 6th is there a chance that you went to your sister’s house and you don’t remember it?
Merritt: Well, I may have been at my sister’s house. I don’t know. I told you. I said…
Bachman: Well…
Merritt: …the only two places I would have been is my sister’s or…
Bachman: That’s what I’m saying.
Merritt: …my brother’s.  Well, anyway, there’s no, simply no, chance I was anywhere near. If I was in Oro Grande, possibly. But I don’t remember even being in Oro Grande. I don’t remember being in the High Desert, so I just don’t remember being up there. But the only reason I would go to the High Desert is to see my sister Anita or my brother Bennett.
Bachman: So we’ll see if we can explain the 6th. All right? We’ll see if we can figure it out. There may have been a chance you were in the desert. You’re saying you weren’t over there.
Merritt: It’s impossible. There’s no way I was anywhere over there.
Bachman: Okay. Juanita and Ben both said you weren’t out there, so and that’s when I went and interviewed them. That’s what they said. But…
Merritt: Then I probably wasn’t there. I mean, yeah. On the 6th, I don’t, like I told you before, I don’t recall being out in the desert at all on the 6th.
Bachman: Right.
Merritt: So, it’s not real likely.
Bachman: Your phone hits up in the desert. That’s why I’m asking. And it’s a pretty particular area,  so…
Merritt: Well, if it, if my phone hit up there, it would have been because I was at my sister Juanita’s. That would be the only reason I’d be there.
Bachman: Got that figured out. Now, let’s go back to the 4th. All right? We’ve got to figure this 4th thing out. All right? Because, ultimately, when this all unfolds, and everything like that, they’re they’re going to look at your statements. They’re going to look at Cathy’s statements. They’re going to look at the totality of everything. And they’re going to try to figure out, why would they lie? Why would they lie and say that he was at home or he wasn’t down there? And Chase, I get it. If you didn’t have any involvement with this and you went down there for some reason, as stupid as it may be, like to go get a check or to go to drop something off or to do whatever, if you had to pick up paperwork, if you had to pick something up, I get it. Okay? But the problem is, is the evidence doesn’t show you were at home, Chase. All right? And if there was no involvement on your part…
Merritt: I get that.
Bachman: Then help me understand. Why come up with all this? Okay? You were down there. You were not at home. The alibi, the alibi or the story and all that is not true. Okay?
Merritt: Well, I don’t know what to say. I have no recollection of driving to Fallbrook on the 4th. I have no recollection of even having any reason to be there. And to the best of my knowledge, I was at home. So there’s – I mean, do I remember getting Joseph’s phone call? No. I told you that. If I did, I would tell you. I actually in going over the conversations with [San Diego County Sheriff’s Detective Troy] DuGal – I think it was with DuGal, maybe his female partner that he had…
Bachman: Fiske?
Merritt: Fiske? Is that her name?
Bachman: Yeah.
Merritt: I mentioned to her, I said, you know, I’m kind of going on Cathy’s memory because, and I don’t remember, even back then. I don’t don’t remember the majority of that evening.
I remember part of the day. I remember meeting with Joseph. I remember eating. I remember, you know…
Bachman: That’s what I’m saying, a key portion of that evening you don’t remember.
Merritt: But the key portion of that day, for me – the exciting part of that day – you’ve got to, you have to realize, if you look back at that day…
Bachman: I did. And you guys had big things going.
Merritt: Huge things going.
Bachman: You talked about all this stuff.
Merritt: Okay. But that day, after Joseph left, in my life at that time, until a week later or more, was not a significant time. So there was – it wasn’t a significant event until later. And then I had to re-recall it. So you’re – you keep saying, well, this is a key, the key time. But reality is…
Bachman: Well, it was.
Merritt: …it – the key time that I was remembering is the time that we’re [doing] something that was important…
Bachman: But it was. Because at some point, whether you have that sit-down lunch with him, or whatever  – now, that’s not the last time that you had any contact with him.
Merritt: No. No. Of course not.
Bachman: So afterwards you have contact with him. But then you go back down to the house. I mean, was he not there when you got to the house?
Merritt: I don’t remember going to the house. So I don’t know why you – I don’t understand why you keep asking me the same question. The thing is that I don’t recall being at the house. I don’t, as a matter of fact, I know for a fact, I had no reason to drive there. There was no reason to be there. None whatsoever.
Bachman: Then why is the truck and everything there?
Merritt: I don’t know. I don’t get it. I don’t know. Maybe you should go back and possibly look at the time stamps.
Bachman: We’ve looked at the time stamps. Everything.
Merritt: Maybe you should do it again.
Bachman: Everything
Merritt: Because there’s – there was no reason for me to be there.
Bachman: The time stamps are fine. February 4th. You’re there on February 4th. Your vehicle pulls out of their driveway on February 4th. Okay?
Merritt: I wasn’t down there – or I wasn’t up there, down there. I wasn’t down there. I was – Joseph came to me on February 4th.
Bachman: Earlier in the day he did. But in that evening, you’re down in Fallbrook.
Merritt: I had no reason to be.
Bachman: But you were down there, so…
Merritt: I had no reason to be there. I wish I could give you an explanation. But I don’t remember going. I don’t remember having a reason to go. I remember the day differently. There’s just simply –   I don’t see any possibility or possible way that I was in Fallbrook. I’m sorry. But that’s – I just don’t see any possible way.
Bachman: You were there. And that’s why, that’s the whole point of this, is trying to come up with an explanation of why you were there.
Merritt: I understand. I completely understand. But there’s got to be another, more plausible,  explanation than – I mean –
Bachman: Well, that’s what I’m hoping for.
Merritt: There’s got to be. But I – it doesn’t seem like I can give you one. Because I just have no clue. I, honestly, don’t have any clue. And, you know, Cathy – as matter of fact, Cathy told you. If there was any – if there was something that I was hiding that would bring her into this, I would never do it intentionally.
The Cathy referred to is Cathy Jarvis, Merritt’s common law wife, the mother of his three children.
Bachman: But I’m trying to explain why your car was down there.
Merritt: I would love to. Honestly, I would love to. I can’t explain it. I have no idea. If I could, I would. As far as my truck, I can’t explain it. I have no clue. I don’t recall being there. I don’t recall any reason for me to drive there. And I, honestly, don’t. I don’t see there would be any possible way that I was in Fallbrook on the 4th…
Bachman:  It happened.
Merritt: …at at any time on the 4th.
Bachman: It happened.
Merritt: Well, I don’t know what to say. I don’t recall ever being there on the 4th. Not even – no. I don’t see how it’s possible, so…
Bachman: I mean, I’m telling you it’s possible, because it happened.
Merritt: Okay. You know, we can go back and forth, but I don’t see how it could be so. I didn’t say I – as far as being at Joseph’s house on the 4th – I didn’t say ‘I don’t remember.’ I pretty much said there is really no possibility that I was there. What I would like you to do, go back to the drawing board and look a little closer. Because I don’t see that there’s any possible way that I could have been there. And there’s no possible way that I was ever at the grave – grave sites before the day that I went to that cross. It’s just not possible. I’m sure you’re thorough. I mean you guys, it’s your job to be thorough. But I think that you should go back and look at where, you know, the possibility of me, if I was in in the High Desert, it was definitely not in that area. It’s not even possible. The first time I had ever been there was the first time I went there … to see the cross. And I don’t even remember being in the High Desert. But that’s neither here nor there. I mean, if I was, I was. But I wasn’t anywhere near that grave site. It’s impossible. I’ve – I’ve never been there before the time that I went to see the cross.”
After the excerpts from the interrogation had been played for the jury, Maline continued with his examination of Detective Bachman. Maline noted that in seeking to trap Merritt into admitting he was at the McStay home on February 4, 2010, Bachman told Merritt that his cell phone records placed him in Fallbrook that evening.
“That was not correct, upon your part,” Maline said.
“As far as his phone records?” Bachman sought to clarify the question.
“Correct,” said Maline.
“Correct,” Bachman said.
“So was that something you did intentionally to spur, as the judge indicated before, to sometimes unfortunately say things that are not true to maybe get someone to say something?” Maline asked.
“During that timeframe his phone records were off, but they didn’t show him in Fallbrook,” Bachman said, acknowledging he had lied to Merritt while interrogating him.
“So, again, was that one of the techniques you were using?” Maline asked.
“You can say that, yeah,” Bachman said.
“You were referring to a phone call at 5:48 [pm on February 4, 2010] because on Mr. Merritt’s cell phone records you recalled there was a phone call at 5:48, correct?” Maline asked.
“I don’t remember the exact time but the last completed call to him was in that timeframe,” Bachman said.
“And do you recall who that phone call was between?” Maline asked.
“The phone records indicated it was from Mr. Merritt and Mr. McStay,” Bachman said.
“So at 5:48 that phone call between Mr. Merritt and Mr. McStay occurs, but it appears that at least in this conversation or the questions you are asking is you indicated that call had already been disproven,” Maline asked. “Had that call been disproven [as having taken place]?”
“I think on that part I made a mistake, and I was likely referring to the 8 o’clock phone call,”  Bachman said.
“You mean the 8:30 phone call, or the 8:28 [pm February 4, 2010]?” Maline asked.
“Yeah, correct,” Bachman said.
“Now, was that an intentional way to spur some type of conversation, a technique, or you just forgot?” Maline asked.
“Listening to the interview, it was probably my error on the two timeframes,” Bachman said.
Maline displayed on the courtroom’s overhead monitors two photos of the red strap that was extracted from the grave in which Joseph McStay Sr. and Joseph McStay, Jr. were buried.
Bachman essentially identified the strap as what he had seen during the excavation of the graves in November 2013. “It looks consistent with the tie strap that was wrapped around Mr. McStay’s body.” Bachman said.
Showing variant photos of the strap, what have been designated during the trial as exhibits 341and 342, Maline focused on the unique black stitching the strap featured.
Maline then had Bachman acknowledge that among his investigative functions was to retrieve the evidence compiled by the San Diego Sheriff’s Department during its investigation of the case in 2010 when that agency was looking into the family’s disappearance.  Maline then displayed on the courtroom’s viewing monitors a photograph taken of the inside of the McStay family’s green Dodge pickup truck. “Do you notice what’s behind the driver’s seat?” Maline asked.
“It looks like an orange tie-down,” Bachman said.
“Does it look similar to the tie-down that we saw in exhibit 341 and 342?” Maline asked.
“It looks similar,” Bachman said.
“Was that something your homicide detail discussed, that the tie-down found in the grave could have come from the green Dodge truck?” Maline asked.
“It may have been discussed, sir,” Bachman said. “I’m sure you could go to a variety of different construction workers’ trucks or different people who go to, I’m sure, Harbor Freight and Home Depot, and find similar tie-downs. I can’t say that it wasn’t discussed.”
Maline then had a photo featuring a passenger side view of the McStay family’s Dodge pick-up displayed on the courtroom’s display monitors.
“This particular Dodge truck does not have running lights underneath the headlights, correct? Maline asked.
“Correct,” Bachman acknowledged.
“And this truck has a rear light where the rear portion of the bed of the truck is, correct?” Maline asked.
“I couldn’t tell you, sir,” Bachman said.
The nature and appearance of the headlights and the running lights on the Dodge truck as well as the positioning of the taillights and their distance from the ground were of importance because those features on the Dodge are a rough match, at least, to the vehicle seen on the Mitchley security video. Conversely, Merritt’s truck featured running lights that were located below and distinct from the headlights, and it had taillights that were at a height of 60 inches, well above what appears to be a taillight on the vehicle seen in the Mitchley video. In his question to Bachman, Maline was angling at illustrating for the jury that the McStay family’s Dodge truck was a potential match to the vehicle seen on the Mitchley security video, while Merritt’s truck was not, which controverts a significant element of the homicide investigators’ conclusion and the prosecution’s theory placing Merritt’s truck, and thus Merritt, at the McStay home on the night the prosecution contends the murders took place.
“Were you involved or did you review the process of the green Dodge truck?” Maline asked.
“I was not involved in the processing of the truck,” Bachman said. “I don’t know if I necessarily read – I think it was Detective [Armando] Avila who did the processing of the truck.”
“Well, there was actually two processings of the truck,” Maline said. “There was one in May of 2014 by Detective Avila, correct?”
“I don’t know exactly when it was conducted, but I believe he did the initial one,” Bachman said.
“There was another one conducted by Sergeant [Ryan] Smith,” Maline said.
“Likely,” Bachman said.
“Do you know how long those tie-downs were in the Dodge truck?” Maline asked.
“No, I don’t,” Bachman said.
“Did you ever use a FARO scan to measure the Dodge truck?” Maline asked.
A FARO scan is a three dimensional imaging of an object. A FARO scan was done on Merritt’s truck in an effort to match it to the images on the Mitchley video.
“I don’t believe that I did,” Bachman said. “I don’t recall doing one. I’m not so sure Sergeant Smith didn’t.”
“Do you know if one was done at all by anyone?” Maline asked.
“Offhand, I don’t know, sir,” Bachman said.
“Do you know if any work was done to compare the Dodge truck to vehicle seen on the Mitchley video?” Maline asked.
“I personally did not,” Bachman said.
“Were you involved in any discussions wherein your homicide detail talked about comparing the Dodge truck to the Mitchley video?” Maline asked.
“I think we probably would have talked about it, but I don’t believe that it seemed similar to it,” Bachman said.
“Do you know what side the muffler is on the Dodge truck?” Maline asked.
“Looking at the picture right here, it’s on the passenger side,” Bachman said.
The vehicle on the Mitchley video featured a muffler on the passenger side.
“Do you know whether the wheelbase was, or what the wheel width was, of the two front tires?” Maline asked,
“I don’t,” Bachman said.
“And the rear tires, as well?” Maline aked.
“I don’t, no,” Bachman said.
“Is that something you would have discussed with your homicide detail?” Maline asked.
“I imagine if we processed it twice, the measurement would have been taken,” Bachman said. “Detective Avila, if he processed it the first time likely would have taken photographs and measurements, and if it was processed a second time by Sergeant Smith, we would have all that, all the measurements, all that might indicate.”
In fact, the Dodge truck’s wheel width was 76 inches, which matched the width of a set of tracks leading to one of the McStay family graves in the desert.
“Did you review the items that were recovered from the Dodge truck, either from [the] San Diego Sheriff’s Department] or when Sergeant Smith or Detective Avila processed it?” Maline asked.
“Did I review them?” Bachman sought clarification.
“Yes,” Maline said.
“Maybe at the time of [the] incident,” Bachman said.
Maline asked Bachman about what appeared to be an alternate light source capable of shedding ultraviolet light seen in a photograph of a countertop in the McStay home taken on February 19, 2010 during the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s serving of a search warrant at the home.
Maline asked if the homicide detail had discussed the alternate light source. Bachman said that it might have discussed but he did not remember.
When Maline asked if he remembered there being any significance attached to the item by the investigation team, Bachman responded, “I didn’t prepare a supplemental report on that.”

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