After Leslie Allen Merritt, Jr. was arrested for the Phoenix freeway shootings, the case was presented to a Maricopa County grand jury, which proceeded to issue a 15-count indictment relating to four of the shootings.
For those unfamiliar with the grand jury process, it is essentially designed to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the defendant has committed the offense charged. It is not designed to prove the defendant’s guilt or innocence. On the other hand, there are those who will tell you that grand juries are regularly manipulated by prosecutors, and this is accomplished by carefully selecting which evidence will be presented, and often withholding evidence that is not favorable to the prosecution. In most cases, the defense has no opportunity to present its side of the story. All of which brings us to the indictment of Mr. Merritt for the I-10 shootings.
The defense attorneys say that the prosecutor mislead the grand jury in the case in several ways. The defense asserts that the prosecutor withheld crucial exculpatory evidence when the case was presented to the grand jury, including:
- Cellphone data that supports an alibi for Merritt.
- Bullying Merritt’s fiancée so that she would not provide Merritt with an alibi.
- Suppression of Merritt’s employment records, which would also support an alibi.
In each case, prosecutors have an answer, which they have presented in a 167-page response to a defense motion to have the case presented to a new grand jury.
We’ll have to wait for the results of the motion to see how the court views the defense claims. But the case does focus on a little understood area of the law, that is, in what circumstances is a prosecutor required to present evidence to a grand jury that might be favorable to the defendant. Where the evidence strongly points to innocence, the prosecutor generally must present it. Evidence which is merely “favorable” to the accused does not necessarily require disclosure at the grand jury hearing. The ultimate issue, of course, is how strong the evidence is that the defense claims was withheld. And in Merritt’s case, that issue is set to be decided on February 19.
The Feldman Law Firm PLLC
1 E. Washington Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004