Suspect Charged With 4 Freeway Shootings, Says He's Not the Guyby Jana Ritter - Published: 9/21/2015
On Friday night a suspect was arrested for four of the 11 confirmed freeway shootings, which have plagued the Phoenix-area for weeks. At about 7 p.m. a SWAT team surrounded 21-year-old, Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., at a Wal-Mart in the Glendale suburb west of Phoenix and took him into custody. Unlike the September 11th takedown of Oscar de La Torre Munoz in a convenience store parking lot who was later cleared, this time authorities are certain they have their man. Moments after Merritt’s arrest, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey even took to his Twitter account proclaiming, "We got him!"
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However, when Leslie Merritt Jr. made his first court appearance on Saturday, the soft-spoken landscaper and father of two wanted to make it clear that he isn’t the shooter. Cuffed and shackled, he had remained quiet through the proceedings where Superior Court Commissioner Lisa Roberts set his bail at $1 million. Then Merritt asked for permission to address the court. Although the judge even advised him it was in his best legal interests to remain silent, Merritt insisted on speaking for himself. "All I have to say is I'm the wrong guy. I tried telling the detectives that. My gun's been in the pawnshop the last two months. I haven't even had access to a weapon," he professed in a quite voice.
Despite his asserted innocence, law enforcement says they have proof that the gun was not in any pawnshop during the four shooting incidents they claim he is responsible for. In fact, their documents detail how detectives traced the gun to Merritt after he took it to a pawn shop and they were able to determine he had not yet pawned his gun at the time of the incidents. Evidence from shell casings and bullet fragments determined that the gun Merritt pawned was used in four shootings that took place on Aug. 29 and 30, where a tour bus, SUV and two cars were hit by bullets on I-10. Merritt has been hit with several serious charges that include aggravated assault, criminal damage, disorderly conduct, carrying out a drive-by shooting intentional acts of terrorism.
Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman, Bart Graves, confirmed that the arrest came as a result of an extensive police investigation that involved weapons from local pawnshops being test-fired at the state lab. During a public press conference Graves was also asked to comment on Merritt’s claim that they have the wrong guy. "The evidence as you'll see in the next couple of days speaks for itself. We're not going to get in a debate about that," Graves replied. Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead also made a public statement confirming that they are still seeking the person(s) responsible for the other shootings. The tip-line signs will remain posted along freeways and a $50,000 is still offered for information leading to an arrest.
In the meantime Merritt's father has been voicing his anger of his son’s arrest. Leslie Merritt Sr. told the media that his son had nothing to do with the shootings and is being made a scapegoat by police who were desperate to make an arrest under immense public pressure.