Charges against Leslie Merritt, Jr., labeled a “domestic terrorist” by the police, will be dismissed, according to a motion filed late last week by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. Merritt was facing charges of drive-by shooting and aggravated assault, among others, in connection with shootings that took place on Phoenix freeways, where 11 vehicles were hit.
You may recall that when Merritt was arrested in September of last year, the event was coupled with Governor Doug Ducey’s statement, “We got him!” Bail was originally set at $1 million. From the beginning, however, Merritt claimed that he was innocent, and that the police had arrested the wrong man. He entered a not guilty plea to all the charges against him. So what happened?
Basically, the evidence the police claimed linked Merritt to the shootings began to fall apart. We don’t have the entire picture, but here are a few things that came to light after the arrest:
- Defense attorneys produced phone records that supported an alibi for Merritt.
- Additional shootings occurred after Merritt was in custody, suggesting that the culprit was still on the loose.
- Ballistics evidence did not support the cops’ version of what happened.
No ballistics match
The state investigators hailed the ballistics evidence at the outset, stating that a ballistics match existed, and that this alone was enough for an arrest. Well, there were and are a few problems with the state’s analysis. First, even if ballistics evidence exists, it is still necessary to place the defendant at the scene, using the gun in question. Second, the expert hired by the state to prove the ballistics case says the identification match does not exist.
During the six months or so that Merritt was in jail, his original bail of $1 million was first reduced to $150,000 due to his lack of a criminal record and lack of drug use. Then it was reduced to zero, as more information about weaknesses in the state’s case came to light.
Of course, we don’t have all the facts on what appears to have been a hasty arrest. The judge in the case issued a gag order earlier in the proceedings, and that order remains in effect, at least until the case is dismissed. In the meantime, attorneys for Merritt have served the state with a $10 million notice of claim charging the state and a number of agencies with wrongful arrest.
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Phoenix, AZ 85004