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Prosecutors in trial on McStay family murder want jurors to view CNN interview defendant gave before his arrest

San Diego Union Tribune logo San Diego Union Tribune 2/11/2019 By Teri Figueroa, The San Diego Union-Tribune
a man sitting at a table using a laptop: Charles "Chase" Merritt, 61, awaits opening statements on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 in San Bernardino, Calif. in his murder trial. He is accused of the murder of Joseph and Summer McStay and their two boys, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3. © Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times/TNS Charles "Chase" Merritt, 61, awaits opening statements on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 in San Bernardino, Calif. in his murder trial. He is accused of the murder of Joseph and Summer McStay and their two boys, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3.

Months before he was arrested on suspicion of murder in 2014, Charles "Chase" Merritt told a CNN reporter that he was "definitely the last person" Joseph McStay saw.

Now, jurors hearing the case that will decide whether Merritt killed McStay and his family may be allowed to see that television interview for themselves.

Last week, San Bernardino, Calif., Superior Court Judge Michael Smith gave prosecutors approval to play the recording for the panel, as long as prosecutors can get someone on the stand to authenticate it as a true representation of the interview.

a man sitting at a desk: Charles "Chase" Merritt, 61, left, with attorney Rajan Maline, awaiting opening statements in his trial on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 in San Bernardino, Calif. Merritt is accused of killing Joseph and Summer McStay and their two boys, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, in 2010 and burying their bodies in the desert in Victorville. © Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times/TNS Charles "Chase" Merritt, 61, left, with attorney Rajan Maline, awaiting opening statements in his trial on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 in San Bernardino, Calif. Merritt is accused of killing Joseph and Summer McStay and their two boys, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, in 2010 and burying their bodies in the desert in Victorville.

Merritt, 61, is charged with killing business partner McStay, 40; McStay's wife Summer, 43; and the couple's sons, Gianni, 4, and Joey Jr., 3.

The Fallbrook family disappeared in February 2010, their whereabouts a mystery.

In November 2013, a dirt biker happened across a child's skull during a ride in the desert outside Victorville, not far from Interstate 15.

It was Joey Jr.'s remains. The bones of the rest of the McStay family were found in graves near where the skull was found - more than 100 miles from the family's home.

A year later, in November 2014, San Bernardino County sheriff's detectives arrested Merritt. Prosecutors there charged him with four counts of murder.

Merritt - who has described Joseph McStay as his best friend _pleaded not guilty and remained jailed in the four years it took to get the case to trial.

McStay sold indoor water features and often hired Merritt, a welder, to make them. On Feb. 4, 2010, the two men had lunch in Rancho Cucamonga to discuss upcoming projects. It's the last known sighting of Joseph McStay.

In 2014, after the family's remains were found but before Merritt's arrest, CNN reporter Randi Kaye sat down with Merritt for a documentary on the missing family.

In a portion of the interview, Merritt told her that McStay might have spoken to others later that day, after their lunch.

"But you were the last person he saw?," Kaye asked Merritt.

"I'm definitely the last person he saw," Merritt said.

After Merritt's arrest, Kaye told CNN host Don Lemon that she and a crew spent about two hours with Merritt on the day of the interview in January 2014, and that he had been friendly and direct in his answers.

The courtroom discussion regarding the interview came during a week in which jurors heard less than two full days of testimony - Wednesday and some of Thursday.

Testimony continues this week.

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