Lawyers: Suspect in some Phoenix freeway shootings has alibi

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Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., appears for his first court appearance Saturday morning. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., appears for his first court appearance Saturday morning. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)

Phone records and family interviews show a 21-year-old man charged in some of the freeway shootings that put Phoenix-area drivers on edge recently was not near the crime scenes, defense attorneys said Wednesday.

Authorities say they used ballistics tests to tie Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. to four of the 11 shootings that occurred on metro Phoenix freeways between Aug. 22 and Sept. 10. No one was seriously injured after eight cars were hit with bullets and three were struck with projectiles such as BBs or pellets, most along Interstate 10, authorities said.

But Merritt's attorneys say cellphone records show their client called his grandmother from his home in the suburb of Glendale just minutes before two of the shootings on Aug. 29. They also say Merritt was asleep at home during at least one of the two remaining shootings with which he is charged.

"He was home at the time. The calls were made from his home in Glendale," attorney Jason Lamm told The Associated Press.

Merritt's grandmother, Marvene Halterman, says he had to be at home when they spoke because she heard him talk to his 4-year-old son and his infant daughter was crying in the background.

Defense attorneys asked a judge in a motion filed Tuesday to reconsider Merritt's $1 million bail and release him on his own recognizance.

"He doesn't have any criminal history. He's never been a danger before. What makes you think he would be now?" Lamm said.

The attorneys also say authorities have dismissed other freeway shootings that have happened since Merritt's arrest as unrelated.

"I find it perilously convenient for investigators to dismiss them as unrelated and irrelevant such a short time after the occurrence of the incidents, sometimes in mere hours ... without any investigation being done," Lamm said.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, whose office is prosecuting Merritt, declined to comment on the filing. He did respond to a question about whether Merritt's cellphone calls were made from Glendale or from a number registered to a Glendale address.

"That's one reason why I would not take as the wholesale, gospel truth whatever a defendant puts in a motion," Montgomery said.

Merritt faces 16 counts, including aggravated assault, unlawful discharge of a weapon and disorderly conduct.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the other shootings remains open. The only injury was to a 13-year-old girl whose ear got cut by glass on Aug. 29.

[Special Section: Freeway Shootings]

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