Court records in freeway shootings released

Posted at 6:30 AM, May 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-13 09:30:38-04

Newly released records in metro Phoenix's freeway shooting case show an expert for the prosecution had concluded that bullets pulled from vehicles in four of the attacks couldn't be linked to a handgun owned by a man charged in the case.

The documents were released Thursday in the case against Leslie Merritt Jr., whose criminal charges were dismissed last month after the prosecution's ballistics expert issued a report.

The records, which repeat some of what defense attorneys had said previously in court, had been sealed but a judge has since ordered them to be publicly released.

Merritt's attorneys say in the records that the ballistics expert was brought in to double-check the work of an Arizona Department Public Safety employee who said bullet projectiles from the four shootings came from Merritt's gun. Lawyers for the 21-year-old landscaper also said the gun was in a pawn shop at the time of one of the shootings.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which filed the case against Merritt, declined to comment on the records.

Capt. Damon Cecil, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said it would be a mischaracterization to say the expert's report was critical of his agency's forensic analysis. "Just because it disagreed (with DPS' findings) doesn't mean it was critical," Cecil said.

Merritt, who spent seven months in jail before his release late last month, has maintained he is innocent and that authorities arrested the wrong person.

Prosecutors, though, could still refile charges against Merritt.

Merritt has filed a legal claim -- a precursor to a lawsuit -- demanding $10 million from the state and county. Merritt alleged that authorities rushed to judgment and failed to provide evidence that he was present at any of the shootings.

In the wake of last summer's shootings, the head of the Arizona Department of Public Safety said they were the work of a domestic terrorist, and authorities heightened patrols and surveillance in pursuit of a suspect.

The decision to throw out the case leaves unanswered questions of who might be responsible for the shootings. No one else has been arrested in the investigation.