Gun belonging to freeway shootings suspect not in pawn shop during I-10 shootings

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Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. was arrested on Sept. 18. He has said repeatedly that he was not involved in the freeway shootings. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. was arrested on Sept. 18. He has said repeatedly that he was not involved in the freeway shootings. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
The owner and the general manager of Mo Money Pawn Shop said Merritt's gun was not in their possession on Aug. 29, when three of the shootings occurred. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) The owner and the general manager of Mo Money Pawn Shop said Merritt's gun was not in their possession on Aug. 29, when three of the shootings occurred. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Store records show Merritt pawned the 9 mm semi-automatic three times. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Store records show Merritt pawned the 9 mm semi-automatic three times. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Records show the gun that Arizona Department of Public Safety investigators linked to four of the Interstate 10 freeway shootings had been in an out of Mo Money Pawn Shop several times since July. 

Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., 21, has denied involvement in the shootings since his arrest on Friday, Sept. 18. 

"I'm the wrong guy," Merritt said during his initial court appearance. "I tried telling the detectives that. My gun's been in the pawn shop for the last two months."
 
The gun in question is a High Point 9 mm semi-automatic. Investigators have forensically linked it to four of the freeway shootings.

Although Merritt said the pawn shop had the gun at the time of those shootings, both the owner of Mo Money Pawn, Eric Baker, and the general manager, Byron Vaughn, said their records show otherwise.

They said store records indicate Merritt's gun was not in their possession when those shootings occurred.

"He did several transactions with this same firearm," Vaughn said. "He did one in the beginning of July -- July 19. It [the gun] was here for several days. He picked that up on the 24th. He again pawned it on Aug. 1; picked it up again on the 22nd. So it was in his possession between Aug. 22 and Aug. the 30th."
 
Three of the four shootings linked to Merritt and his gun occurred on Saturday, Aug. 29. Merritt pawned the gun a third time at around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 30. 

In the shooting list put out by DPS, the fourth shooting linked to Merritt took place on Aug. 30 between 9:45 p.m. and  10:15 p.m., more than four hours after he pawned the gun at Mo Money Pawn. 

[INFOGRAPHIC: Freeway shooting incidents by date]

Sources close to the investigation said the listed time is when the driver of a vehicle returned from an out-of-town trip. When he got to his car in the airport parking lot, the tire was flat. The car had been parked in the same spot and not moved since Aug. 27, so the exact time date and time a slug from Merritt's gun pierced one of the tires is not known. 

"We gave them a copy of all our original records," Vaughn said. "It has the person who did the transaction's name, driver's license, all their vital information, as well as a right index fingerprint on the ticket. And we also have time-stamped video."
 
Mo Money was contacted last Wednesday when DPS tracked pawn shop records and discovered the store had recently taken in two High Point 9 mm guns. A criminalist looked at both weapons and determined one needed further testing. Investigators took it for a test fire. 

"When they went and test fired it and found that the bullet was a match to the bullet that they were looking for, they called us back and got the information of the person who did the transaction with us,' Vaughn said.

According to the pawn shop employee who waited on Merritt, there was nothing unusual about the transaction or his behavior.

Vaughn said it feels good to know his store helped investigators catch the suspected freeway shooter. He said there's also some personal relief that goes along with it.

"I ride a motorcycle to work, and I go right on the I-10, you know?  I wasn't real comfortable riding to work a couple of those days or riding home," he said.
 
Merritt is being held on $1 million bond. DPS has been interviewing people who know Merritt and they continue to process evidence. 
Formal charges could come by the end of the week. 

[RELATED: Questions and answers about the Phoenix freeway shootings]

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