PHOENIX A.Z. (AP) — The 21-year-old man was accused of a string of shootings on Interstate 10 last summer was awarded $10 million dollars by an Arizona State Judge. The native of Arizona had filed a notice of claim against a handful of state agencies, alleging he was wrongfully arrested.
Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. was awarded $2.5 million apiece from the state of Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey, Maricopa County and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery for what his attorneys say was a rush to judgment in response to “intense political and financial pressure,” according to the notice of claim.
Merritt was arrested Sept. 18 following a spate of freeway shootings that kept the Valley on edge late last summer. Arizona Department of Public Safety officials said they connected Merritt to four of the 11 incidents through ballistics testing, matching bullets and fragments to a gun he owned.
Merritt’s attorneys say scientific evidence and alibi witnesses prove his innocence, confirming that he was at or near work or home during at least three of the incidents.
Merritt was warned about making statements that could be used against him after he asked Judge Lisa Roberts if he could speak.
“All I have to say is I’m the wrong guy,” Merritt told the judge. “I tried telling the detectives that.”
Merritt claimed he didn’t even have access to a gun because his gun was in a pawn shop for the past two months.
Merritt’s lawyer said, “If he did or didn’t have that gun in the pawn shop for the last two months, that will come out in the first hour of the trial. That means if it wasn’t him, it was a pawn shop employee or someone who had access to the gun after it was sold, which means sloppy police work and Merritt should sue the state for every penny they have.”
The claim alleged that county prosecutors deliberately failed to present cellphone and employment records to the grand jury in their zeal for an indictment and criticized Ducey for tweeting “We got him” during Merritt’s arrest.
Merritt’s defense attorneys have made similar allegations in his criminal pre-trial proceedings, but a judge denied their motion for remand to the grand jury.
If alarm bells aren’t ringing loudly in your head today, they should be. Ringing, Pealing, CLANGING.
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge on Tuesday freed the man charged with last summer’s freeway shootings.
Bail for Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., was reduced to zero at the request of his defense attorney and without complaint by the prosecutor.
Translation: uh oh.
Why was this guy in jail for so long?
After locking this guy up for seven months, now there isn’t enough evidence to merit so much as $1 in bail?
In light of Tuesday’s release, it seems reasonable to ask why, exactly, he was in jail in the first place. What evidence exists to justify denying this guy his freedom for SEVEN MONTHS?
Apparently, none, otherwise prosecutors would have been screaming their heads off at the notion of allowing a suspected serial freeway shooter to walk out of jail, a free man.
The case against Merritt hinges on ballistics yet his attorney said an independent review called that evidence into question.
“There’s no evidence against him,” attorney Jason Lamm told Superior Court Judge Warren Granville. “He’s no more the 1-10 shooter than you are.”
What exactly was that material fact?
Granville, in reducing Merritt’s bond from $150,000 to $0, said the change in status was based on a “material fact” that hadn’t been presented earlier.
I’m wondering if that “material fact” might be one giant botch job by DPS and prosecutors.
At the time of Merritt’s arrest last September, DPS Director Frank Milstead announced that lab results tied Merritt’s gun to four of the 11 shootings. But public records, released months later, showed that Merritt’s gun was at pawn shop the night one of the victims reported a flat tire.
Months in solitary with no real evidence
From the start, Merritt has claimed that police got the wrong guy, that his gun was locked away in a pawn shop during the shootings. Police have countered that the evidence speaks for itself.
Turns out, it apparently does and what it’s saying after SEVEN MONTHS of captivity is rather alarming.
Me? I’m waiting for Milstead and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to explain why a 21-year-old suspect was locked away for seven months — much of it spent in solitary confinement — with what appears to be no real evidence that he was shooter.
There’s a lesson here for all of us – including me – to remember that old adage that we are so quick to discard in this the internet age:
Innocent before guilty.
Within minutes of Merritt’s capture last year, Gov. Doug Ducey triumphantly announced the news that the freeway shooter had been captured.
I’m wondering if Ducey will be tweeting out a new message today.
“We don’t got him?”
Merritt describes his treatment
An unarmed Merritt was arrested Sept. 18 in a dramatic SWAT takedown in the parking lot of a Glendale Walmart with his fiancée and 5-month-old daughter. He said he and his fiancée were at Walmart to purchase diapers and wipes for their infant daughter. As they were leaving, four SUVs pulled up and Merritt was told to get on the ground, he told McGraw.
Investigators insisted that Merritt was the shooter, he said, and he was interrogated by DPS detectives who bluffed by telling him they had highway surveillance footage of Merritt committing the crimes. The 21-year-old demanded he be shown the footage, but it never was produced.
An unfazed Merritt continued to tell them he was innocent even as detectives implied his fiancée had said he could be capable of committing the crime, he said.
Merritt thought he would be cleared and released shortly thereafter, but it wasn’t until seven months later that he was allowed to return to his family after remaining in solitary confinement for the majority of his stay, he said in the program.
“I couldn’t understand. I wasn’t the person who did this; I’m not the kind of guy to harm other people,” Merritt said. “I know I didn’t do this. (There) was no point in arguing with them; they had their mind made up.”
Though now a free man, Merritt told McGraw that the accusation has had a great impact on his life. His former fiancee “moved on” after the stress became too much and his now 13-month-old daughter did not recognize him, and his son has separation issues because of his absence.
“It tore me up,” Merritt said. “My kids should not have had to go through that.”
McGraw ended the hour-long special by telling Merritt he was sorry for what happened.
“It’s horrifying to me that someone in America could be taken off the street and put into solitary confinement for 222 days. … The best revenge is living well and you keep the nice demeanor you have and people will embrace you,” McGraw said. “You have a reason to have a chip on your shoulder; let people root for you. Hang in there.”