Are Phoenix freeway shootings, serial street shootings connected? ABC15 confirms gun link

Posted at 5:44 PM, Apr 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-25 14:43:19-04

A man identified as a person of interest in the Phoenix serial street shootings may also be tied to another of the Valley's highest profile cases -- the Phoenix freeway shootings.

Aaron Saucedo is being questioned in connection with the spree of street shootings that happened between March and July 2016, which left seven people dead and two injured. 

RELATED: Full coverage of Phoenix serial street shootings

Saucedo was taken into custody last week for the 2015 murder of 61-year-old Raul Romero -- a case not tied to the serial street shootings, nor the freeway shootings.

He was arrested after Phoenix police connected casings at the scene to a gun Saucedo had sold to a Phoenix pawn shop. Turns out, the Arizona Department of Public Safety had previously grabbed that same gun as part of the freeway shootings investigation.

RELATED: Full coverage of Phoenix freeway shootings

Saucedo's gun was among at least eight seized as part of the freeway shooter case.

DPS test fired all of those weapons, analyzed bullet fragments, came upon what they thought was a match -- and stopped. That process led to the arrest of suspected shooter Leslie Merritt Jr.

Sources tell ABC15 Saucedo's gun was never analyzed, and went back to the pawn shop. Months later, Phoenix police took possession of the gun and conducted their own testing, leading to Saucedo's arrest in connection with Romero's 2015 murder.

The freeway shootings remain unsolved.

DPS tells ABC15 the investigation remains active, and there is no link between Saucedo and Merritt.

Merritt has since been released and charges dropped after experts refuted the report linking Merritt's gun to the shootings.

"Based on the information that was produced to us by the County Attorney, DPS never looked any further than Mr. Merritt's gun, even though it was sitting under their nose the whole time," Merritt's attorney Jason Lamm said.

Merritt also released the following statement Monday:

"My life was ruined when I was falsely accused of horrible crimes I didn't commit. To know that the gun of an accused murderer was in the hands of police, but not examined, adds insult to injury.  I hope that an independent and unbiased look at this new evidence will now show the world  that I am not the I-10 shooter and that the person who really committed these crimes gets what he deserves."

So could Saucedo be tied to the freeway shootings?

In a Monday evening press release, DPS said, "There is no evidence to suggest that the arrest of Saucedo is tied to any DPS investigations." 

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams released the following statement late Tuesday morning:

"By now, most of you have seen news reports that a person of interest has been identified and related to the Serial Street Shooter series. Investigations of this complexity are rare and take time to properly investigate. We cannot allow the release of unconfirmed information to jeopardize justice for anyone. The investigation and discovery of evidence will guide our timeline as we move forward. We, as your police department, owe that to our victims and to our community. Trust that we are aggressively investigating all leads and information related to this case. As promised, we will continue to share any and all information that will help keep our community safe. Until this case is resolved, we ask everyone in our community to continue reporting suspicious people and activity."

Legal Analyst James Goodnow says police will take their time to make sure this case is fool-proof.

"They will gather witness statements," said Goodnow. "They're going to interview employers, friends, family to make sure they get this one right and if they move forward with charges that there's a conviction."

Even though police are not commenting, Goodnow says there are some obvious connection between Saucedo and the serial street shootings.

"We know that Mr. Saucedo looks eerily similar to that composite sketch that was prepared last year," said Goodnow. "We know Mr. Saucedo drives the same type of vehicle, that black BMW that was identified by witnesses and we know that Mr. Saucedo, at least in the eyes of law enforcement, is capable of murder."

Saucedo is currently behind bars awaiting trial.

"This gives law enforcement time to get all their ducks in a row," said Goodnow. "So if they proceed forward -- they get it right and it will ultimately lead to that conviction they're looking for."