Accused Freeway Shooter Faces 100 Years, Pleads Not Guiltyby Jana Ritter - Published: 10/01/2015
Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., the 21-year-old accused of being responsible for the first four of 11 freeway shootings that terrorized Phoenix-area motorists, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Thursday. Wearing striped prison garb and with his head now shaved, Merritt stood with his two court appointed attorneys as he was arraigned at the Maricopa County Superior Court. He has been charged with 15 felony counts that include drive-by shooting, aggravated assault, intentional acts of terrorism and disorderly conduct involving a weapon. If he is found guilty of all charges associated with each shooting, the young man could be looking at over 100 years in prison.
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It’s not surprising that Merritt’s attorneys, Ulises Ferragut and Jason Lamm, are coming out strong with their defense. They started by challenging the state’s investigation saying it simply does not place him at the shooting scenes. They spoke to the media following the hearing and stood by their client’s innocence. "We're going to work diligently to make sure that we investigate this fully, and we believe in his innocence," said Ferragut. They also said they will be looking at the investigators' timeline of the shootings and will do their own investigation. Lamm said that they are even looking into the possibility of another person admitting responsibility for any of the 11 shootings. However, he wasn’t ready to say who that person was or provide any further details. "It's very, very early in the game to get hard confirmation on that," he said.
Prosecutors still insist Merritt was involved in the first four shootings on Interstate 10, with the first three taking place on August 29, and the fourth occurring the following day. They also say that the Department of Public Safety investigators used ballistics tests to tie Merritt to four of the 11 shootings. Merritt was arrested on Sept. 18 and although he had not yet been appointed attorneys for his first court appearance, he waived his right to remain silent and told the judge that he couldn't have committed the crimes because his "gun's been in the pawn shop for the last two months." However, the state says police evidence shows the firearm had not been in the pawnshop when the first four shootings occurred. They say the shop's owner confirmed that the gun was picked up on August 22 and was brought back on August 30, which was the same day of the fourth shooting.
In the meantime, the landscaper and father of two obviously can’t afford the $1 million bail he has been held on since his arrest and he will remain in the Maricopa County Jail until his next court date on November 18.