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San Bernardino judge allows McStay family murder suspect to have more case files in his cell

A San Bernardino Superior Court judge ruled Friday that McStay family murder suspect Charles “Chase” Merritt will be allowed to have more of his case files in his jail cell than is normally allowed under policy.
In a motion filed with the court, Merritt’s attorneys sought a temporary injunction and temporary restraining order against the Sheriff’s Department, which operates county jails, after he was disciplined Dec. 31 for what they believed was Merritt having too many of his case files in his cell.
“Further, counsel for defendant is informed and believes that members of the Sheriff’s Department have seized or are planning to seize, and review/destroy materials kept by defendant to prevent him in assisting the preparation of his case for trial,” according to the motion, filed by attorney James McGee, who along with Rajan Maline is representing Merritt.
Deputy County Counsel Miles Kowalski, advisory counsel to the Sheriff’s Department, told Judge Michael A. Smith that Merritt was in fact disciplined for having property in his cell in excess of what is allowed, but it had nothing to do with his case file materials. He said the only thing removed from Merritt’s cell at the time were magazines, prescription pill bottles and a coffee bag.
“No discovery was removed from his cell at that time,” Kowalski said. “Discovery” is a legal term pertaining to evidence gathered and presented by both the prosecution and the defense in a criminal case.
Smith said, per the Sheriff’s Department policy, inmates are allowed to have one 15″ X 20″ accordion binder of case materials with them in their cell. Inmates representing themselves in court – pro per defendants – are allowed to have three such binders with them in their cell. But in Merritt’s case, Smith granted an exception given the voluminous amount of police reports and other documented evidence in Merritt’s file.
“Obviously, the amount of discovery in this case is much larger than the average case,” Smith said. He ruled that Merritt will be allowed to have three 15″X20″ accordion files with him in his cell, comparable to a pro per defendant. But he gave the Sheriff’s Department leeway to request a modification of Smith’s order should any problems arise warranting it.
Merritt, 58, of Homeland, stands charged with four counts of murder for the bludgeoning deaths of Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their two sons, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, in their Fallbrook home, in San Diego County, on or around Feb. 4, 2010. The family’s remains were discovered in two shallow graves, west of the 15 Freeway and north of Stoddard Wells Roads, on the outskirts of Victorville, in November 2013. He was arrested a year later following the discovery of human remains found buried in the Mojave Desert near Victorville, which were positively identified as that of the McStay family.
Authorities believe financial gain was the motive behind the killings. Merritt faces the death penalty if convicted.
Smith scheduled Merritt’s next hearing, a trial setting conference, for Feb. 23. Trial is expected to get underway after Easter.

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