When you watch television dramas or movies about murder cases, they’re usually very dramatic. Trials go on for weeks or months. Juries are asked to convict defendants based on nothing but circumstantial evidence. Defense lawyers use smoke and mirrors to confuse juries.
Most of the time, murder trials are nowhere near this interesting. However, there was a recent case in San Diego where the murder trial involved all of these things. It involved bodies that were missing for almost ten years. It talked about business partnerships gone bad. And it involved a prosecution that relied on little to no physical evidence.
In the real world, it is very hard to convict someone when there is no physical evidence. Juries like to see things like blood on the defendant’s clothes or fingerprints found at the scene. With so much on the line – sometimes even the death penalty – it just doesn’t seem right to convict someone based on nothing but theories and emails.
The Charles “Chase” Merritt trial this past summer was one of the biggest murder cases San Diego has seen in quite some time. It’s interesting to take a look at how and why the defendant, in this case, was convicted of murder with almost no physical evidence at all.
Background of the McStay Murders
The defendant, Charles Merritt, was business partners with a man named Joseph McStay. In early 2010, McStay sent Merritt a series of emails stating that he owed the company thousands of dollars in overpayments.
Just days later, McStay and his family went missing. There was no more contact on his telephone or email addresses. There was also no debit card or banking activity. For almost ten years, nobody knew what had happened to the McStay family.
Last year, the family’s bodies were located near Victorville in San Diego County. They were buried in shallow graves. Near the remains, investigators found a sledgehammer and a baby’s diaper.
It was evident that the family had been murdered. But there was no indication who, how or why it happened. Shortly thereafter, Charles Merritt was arrested and charged with four (4) counts of first-degree murder.
What Evidence Did the State Have?
Usually, when someone is charged with murder, there is an abundance of physical evidence tying the defendant to the crime. Here, there was none of that. Although the victims had allegedly been bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer, there was no blood found on the defendant. Nor was there blood found in his home or on his clothes.
In fact, there really wasn’t any physical evidence tying Merritt to the crime at all. Yet he was charged and on trial for murder. His defense attorney made two main arguments. First, the lack of evidence against Merritt screamed for a not guilty verdict. Second, he argued that some other group of people had actually kidnapped McStay and his family. He claimed that his client had absolutely nothing to do with it.
The jury disagreed. After deliberations, the jury came back with 4 guilty verdicts. They agreed that the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to tie Merritt to the crime. They also agreed that the defendant should be sentenced to death.
What is Unique About this Conviction?
One of the interesting things about this case is the timing. The family disappeared in 2010. It was almost nine years before they found their bodies. In that amount of time, the physical evidence would have been long gone.
How was the State supposed to prove that the defendant killed the victims after so much time? It’s not as if you can expect to find ten years old clothes or bloodstains. The defendant probably wasn’t driving the same car as when the murders took place.
Yet, somehow, the State was able to convince a jury that this man killed an entire family. Of course, the record may give more insight into all of the evidence that prosecution had. However, there was no doubt that this evidence was circumstantial.
What Do You Do if You’re Charged with Murder in San Diego?
If you’ve been charged with a serious crime like murder, you need to call a good San Diego criminal defense lawyer. It takes someone with a lot of experience to adequately represent you.
Call San Diego Criminal today and schedule your initial consultation. Clearly, the criminal justice system can be unpredictable. You don’t want to handle this on your own. There is just too much at stake – maybe even your life.