Trial date set for suspected PHX freeway shooter

Posted at 3:10 PM, Feb 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-19 22:05:59-05

Attorneys for the man authorities describe as the Phoenix freeway shooter lost a bid Friday to get the case sent back to a grand jury but succeeded in their pursuit of more information about a series of similar shootings last year.

The legal team for Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. argued prosecutors omitted key evidence when they presented the case to a grand jury, resulting with the charges against the 21-year-old landscaper. Defense lawyers say authorities disregarded Merritt's alibi and bullied his fiancΘe while questioning her. They believe a fuller presentation of the facts to the grand jury would have led to a different conclusion and proved he did not carry out the shootings.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Warren J. Granville ruled Friday that attorneys for Merritt should argue in front of a trial jury about what evidence prosecutors chose to present. 

Defense attorney Jason Lamm said prosecutors left out key information including records that show Merritt's primary cellphone was miles from where one incident occurred. He also cited a shifting timeline for one of the shootings.

"They basically fired a shotgun at the side of a barn, and that's how they got an indictment on this count," Lamm said.

Merritt was arrested in September after authorities said ballistic tests tied him to four of the 11 shootings that occurred on freeways last summer. The string of shootings rattled the Phoenix area.

The court granted a defense request for investigative records related to the other shootings, despite prosecutors' objections. Authorities will have 30 days to turn over the information.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office argued the effort amounted to a "fishing expedition" and contended the other cases were irrelevant. The office dismissed the alibi contention and said ballistics evidence links Merritt to the four shootings in late August.

Merritt's trial is scheduled for June 9.

SPECIAL SECTION: Phoenix freeway shootings