Freeway shootings update: Leslie Merritt civil trial won't begin until 2018

Posted at 11:30 AM, Feb 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-06 09:37:55-05

Court paperwork obtained by ABC15 shows that the trial in the civil case between Leslie Merritt Jr. and the Arizona Department of Public Safety won't begin until at least January 2018.

Last month a judge denied a motion to dismiss the civil case against DPS filed by attorneys for the former freeway shootings suspect, Leslie Merritt Jr.

Court paperwork now shows that both sides will use most of 2017 to present and rebut opinions made by experts that each side intends to put forward in the trial.

Attorneys will also use that time to complete discovery of all non-expert witnesses.

They intend to come together via a conference call on January 22, 2018 to hammer out a trial schedule. 

In September 2016, Merritt's lawyers filed a suit in civil court for malicious prosecution. The lawsuit named the State of Arizona, Maricopa County, and County Attorney Bill Montgomery as defendants. 

Merritt had been the only named suspect in four of 11 shootings that caused panic on Phoenix-area freeways in August and September of 2015.   

No one was seriously injured when eight cars were hit with bullets, and three others were struck with projectiles such as BBs or pellets. The only injury occurred when the ear of a 13-year-old girl was cut by glass. 

No one else has been arrested in the case, and an investigation remains open.  

Merritt, who insisted he was innocent, spent seven months in jail before his release in April.

Criminal charges against Merritt were dismissed at the request of prosecutors after another ballistics expert found the Arizona Department of Public Safety's crime lab had come to a faulty conclusion and noted the bullets from the four shootings couldn't be "excluded or identified" as having come from Merritt's gun.

Lawyers for the 22-year-old landscaper filed a notice of claim, claiming Arizona authorities rushed to judgment and failed to provide evidence that he was present at any of the shootings. 

The lawsuit alleges false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and aiding and abetting tortious conduct.

Merritt's lawsuit did not specify the amount of money he is seeking. His attorneys previously said he was seeking $10 million from the state, Maricopa County and the office of County Attorney Bill Montgomery.