Prosecutor casts doubt on alibi for freeway shooting suspectPosted: Updated:
A prosecutor has cast doubt on an alibi offered by a man charged in some of the freeway shootings that put drivers in metro Phoenix on edge nearly two months ago.
Leslie Merritt Jr. has asked to be released from jail based on phone records and family interviews that his lawyers say prove he wasn't near the crime scenes. They say Merritt's fiancee will testify that he was at their Glendale home when the shootings occurred.
But prosecutor Edward Leiter said in a court filing Wednesday that the fiancee told police that she wasn't sure about Merritt's whereabouts on the day in question. Leiter urged a judge to keep his bail at $1 million, arguing there's no reliable evidence to justify changing his bond.
Authorities say they used ballistic tests to tie the 21-year-old to four of the 11 shootings that occurred on metro Phoenix's freeways between Aug. 22 and Sept. 10. The investigation into the other shootings remains open.
No one was seriously injured after eight cars were hit with bullets and three were struck with projectiles such as BBs or pellets, mostly along Interstate 10. The only injury was to a 13-year-old girl whose ear was cut by glass.
The prosecutor said the shootings were committed against strangers with no obvious motive other than to create fear among motorists. "Firing bullets into four moving vehicles shows a profound and conscious disregard for the community's safety and poses a great danger to the community-at-large," Leiter wrote.
Merritt attorney Jason Lamm and Jerry Cobb, spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which is prosecuting the case, said a gag order prevents them from commenting publicly on the case.
Merritt, who insists police arrested the wrong person in the case, has pleaded not guilty to drive-by shooting, aggravated assault and other charges.
Defense lawyers have said that Merritt's fiancee will testify that the couple spent most of Aug. 29 with their two children, except for a 15-minute period long before the shootings in which she went to a store.
They say phone records will show their client called his grandmother from his home just minutes before two of the shootings on Aug. 29. They also say Merritt was at home asleep during at least one of the two remaining freeway shootings he is charged with.
It's unknown whether Merritt's cellphone calls were made from Glendale or from a number registered to a Glendale address.
The prosecutor's filing didn't address the claim by Merritt's grandmother or whether investigators have determined the location where Merritt's cellphone calls were actually made.
A judge will hold a Nov. 16 hearing about Merritt's request.
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