San Diego County's Search Warrants in McStay Case Unsealed

Court documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates appear to contradict statements by the San Diego Sheriff’s Department about its investigation of deaths of the McStay family.

A San Diego judge unsealed four search warrants Friday associated with early stages of the San Diego Sheriff’s investigation into the McStay family murder.

Joseph and Sunny McStay and their two sons Gianni and Joseph Mateo mysteriously vanished from their Fallbrook home in February 2010, prompting a nationwide search.

In a search warrant affidavit written four days after Joseph McStay’s brother reported the family was missing, Detective Troy DuGal informed a judge that he believed the family was “victim(s) of foul play” and that “some or all of the McStay family has been kidnapped or killed.”

Those statements are contrary to recent comments by San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore, who just two months ago told NBC 7 investigators believed from the start that it was a “missing persons case,” not a homicide investigation.

The bodies of the McStay family were found in the desert near Victorville in November 2013.

A year later, Joseph McStay’s former business partner, Charles Merritt, was arrested and charged with four counts of murder.

After the San Bernardino County Sheriff announced Merritt’s arrest, members of the McStay family criticized the handling of the case by Gore’s department.

Responding to that criticism, Gore said his detectives did not think the McStay’s home was a murder or kidnapping crime scene, and instead looked at the evidence as in light of their opinion that the McStay family had only gone missing.

In his February 19, 2010 application for a search warrant, Detective DuGal sought permission from the judge to thoroughly search the McStay home on Avocado Vista Lane in Fallbrook.

“If the family was killed in the residence or taken from the residence and transported in [their truck], there may be trace evidence that has been left behind, such as human hairs, tissues, secretions as well as other forensic evidence that is often located at the scene and can be used to identify possible perpetrators, victims and potential witnesses,” said the warrant.

NBC 7 Investigates asked Jan Caldwell, the Public Affairs Director for the Sheriff’s Office, about the apparent contradiction, but she said the office was not going to comment because it was an ongoing investigation, even though the sheriff talked about the case publicly in November.

“As this is an active investigation with the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department, it would be inappropriate for us to make any comment whatsoever,” Caldwell said in an email.

NBC 7 was one of several media organizations who requested that a judge unseal the warrants as we try to learn more about the killings of the couple and their two children, Gianni and Joseph Mateo, ages 4 and 3 respectively.

Merritt's attorney opposed Friday’s release.

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